Forty Percent of U.S. Babies Lack Parental Bonding


A recent study says four out of 10 babies born in the United States will not form a strong enough bond with their caregivers and the lack of “secure attachment” will cause effects throughout the children’s lives, such as educational and behavior problems. The bonds are formed during simple actions, such as comforting crying babies and responding to their needs.

The researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol all contributed to the new study published by Sutton Trust, which publishes papers on education and social mobility. The study can be downloaded from the Sutton Trust’s site.

According to the study, 40 percent of infants in the United States “live in fear or distrust of their parents,” which can come out as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, poor language skills and other negative ways as they grow into adults. Twenty-five percent of those babies don’t bond because their parents aren’t responding to their needs. Fifteen percent of the babies actually avoid their parents because interaction with them causes so much stress.

The coauthors used more than 100 research projects, plus data collected by a U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001, to reach their conclusions. Poverty, ignorance and stress were mentioned as the key problems causing the bonding problems.

“When caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place—leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn or disorganized,” the study says.

The study found that the attachment can be created with either parent. But the best results in avoiding possible later criminal behavior seemed to show it was more important for boys to form an attachment with their fathers and for girls to bond with their mothers. Boys growing up in poverty were twice as likely to have behavioral problems in school if they didn’t have a strong bond to a parent.

The lead author of the study, sociologist Sophie Moullin of Princeton, says, “They can overcome it. It’s not a make or break situation, but they might find it harder to regulate their behavior.”

“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap,” says Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust.