Ethnic Differences in Maternal and Teacher Reports of Children's Behaviour in the UK and US

Thursday, January 15, 2015: 4:25 PM
Balconies I, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Afshin Zilanawala, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, University College London, London, United Kingdom

Early childhood behavior problems are consequential to children’s academic success and a number of adult outcomes. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic disproportionality in the labeling of problem behaviors among school children is a major social justice issue in schools. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), race/ethnic differences in socioemotional behaviors have been documented, but little research examines these differences between mothers and teachers in their reporting of child behavior. Yet, most of the evidence documenting discrepancies between teacher and parent reports of children’s behavior is in the U.S context. Differences in ratings may be more than measurement error and may reveal important information about the context in which children’s behavior is expressed. An important gap in this literature is investigating teachers’ and parents ratings of behavior by race/ethnicity and the degree to which a bias exists in teachers’ reports. Existing research finds teachers are more likely to report more externalizing behavior problems for African-American adolescents and elementary school aged children.

An important gap in the literature is examining differences in parent and teacher reports of problem behaviors by race/ethnicity using a population based sample. Additionally, research thus far has grouped children within wide age ranges and has focused on adolescents. The present study seeks to fill these gaps by evaluating potential biases in mothers’ and teachers’ reports of children’s externalizing behavior by race/ethnicity.


The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) is a study of 18,552 children born in the U.K. between 2000 and 2001. We used data collected from the fourth sweep of interviews when the cohort child was approximately 7 years of age. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) is a nationally representative sample of children born in the U.S. in 2001. We use data collected on children when they entered kindergarten, aged approximately 5 years.

In both studies, parents and teachers assessed children’s behavior using validated behavior scales. Externalizing behavior measures conduct and peer problems. Regressions controlled for child, family, and teacher characteristics. Appropriate weights adjust for oversampling of disadvantaged areas and the clustered sample design.


            In the U.K., we find that mothers of ethnic minority children report higher scores on externalizing behavior than mothers of White children. Comparing mothers and teachers in their reports of children’s behaviors by race/ethnicity, we find Indian and Bangladeshi mothers report more externalizing problems than teachers. Black African mothers report lower externalizing scores than these children’s teachers report.

            In the U.S., we find similar results; mothers of racial/ethnic minority children report higher scores than mothers of White children. Comparing mothers’ and teachers’ reports, we find Black and Hispanic mothers to report less externalizing problems than teachers.


            We find ethnic minority mothers reporting higher levels of problem behaviors as compared to White mothers. Additionally, we find teacher bias in reporting among Black Africans in the UK and Black children in the US. Our study highlights racial/ethnic inequalities in the reporting of children’s socio-emotional behavior—findings that have major implications for race/ethnic inequalities in both the UK and US.