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Mother and Son

Raising a Child Without the Village? Social Support and Maternal Wellbeing in the Time of COVID-19

PI: Emily Emmott, UCL Co-I: Sarah Myers, UCL. Funding: UCL Social and Historical Sciences and British Academy

Status: Ongoing

"It takes a village to raise a child." Public health literature shows that social support is imperative for maternal mental-health and secure mother-infant relationships. However, a biological anthropological perspective highlights how current public health solutions are too narrow, being predicated on nuclear family norms along with medicalisation of maternal support – leaving the wider informal network of potential supporters ‘untapped’.

The COVID-19 pandemic creates a situation in which practical, informational, and emotional support are all likely to be more important to new mothers, but it will also be having unprecedented effects on their access to such support. As we currently do not know how long the pandemic will last, it is crucial that public health officials know what forms of social support are most beneficial for protecting emotional wellbeing at this time, so as to best support mothers going forward in this and future crisis situations.

In this project, we will explore if/how mothers raise children “without the village” during COVID-19 in the UK: What (if anything) has replaced the village, and how does this impact maternal mental-health?

Adolescent Sociality Across Cultures

Co-PIs: Emily Emmott, UCL, Masahito Morita, University of Tokyo. Funding: ESRC-AHRC

Status: Ongoing

We are working to lay the foundations for an ambitious project on adolescent sociality in Japan and the UK, with focus on adolescent social networks and communication. Using participatory methods, we are establishing 4 field sites across the two nations. Drawing on ideas/feedback from our Adolescent Sociality Research Network as well as adolescents themselves, we are designing a cross-national survey to be piloted in the next phase of our project.

Further information on this project can be found at

School Hallway
Mother Breastfeeding Baby

Social support, maternal experience and infant feeding

Co-PIs: Emily Emmott, UCL, Abigail Paige, LSHTM, Sarah Myers, UCL. Funding: European Human Behaviour and Evolution Society

Status: Ongoing

While the public health literature demonstrates a positive association between social support and breastfeeding, research has generally focused on informational and emotional support, overlooking practical help. Research also overlook wider sources of support, such as grandparents. Informed by evolutionary theory, we investigate how different types of support from different allomothers are associated with breastfeeding outcomes.

We are currently analysing survey data around social support and infant feeding experience. Our first publication from this project (on the typologies of social support) is available here. Further information about the project can be found here.

Exploring the interface between health services and children's social care

PI: Jenny Woodman, UCL. Funding: Academy of Medical Science, Wellcome Trust

Status: Ongoing

Using the Children in Need census, we are investigating the causes and consequences of referrals from health services, and whether this varies around England. Through a mixed method approach, we are paying particular attention to the meaning we can derive from the Children in Need census - what does the existing data actually tell us about the interface between health and children's social care?

Our publication describing the Children in Need census can be found here, and our study exploring referral rates from health services to children's social care can be found here.

Female Doctor
Teen study group

A time of change? Harmonising the meaning of 'adolescence' between young people and researchers

PI: Emily Emmott, Co-I: Sarah-Jane Blakemore, UCL; Larissa Pople, The Children’s Society. Funding: UCL Grand Challenges

Status: Complete

Public health researchers have highlighted the significance of adolescence as a developmental period, with suggestions that adolescence in developed populations should be extended to 24 years. But what do young people make of such scientific understandings of adolescence? Through an interactive workshop with young people, we explore if and how the scientific understanding of adolescence complements and/or conflicts with their own views and identities.

Our final report from this project can be found here.

Allomaternal investments and child outcomes in the United Kingdom

PhD project. Funding: ESRC, MRC, ERC

Status: Complete

With economic development and the demographic transition, questions arise regarding the importance of allomothers for successful childrearing, and whether humans in these settings still operate as cooperative breeders. My project focused on quantitatively investigating the effects of fathers, stepfathers and grandparents on child development in the UK. Using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, I investigated how direct investments from fathers and stepfathers are associated with multiple child outcomes. Second, using the UK Millennium Cohort Study, I investigated how direct and indirect investments from maternal and paternal grandparents are associated with parental investment levels, as well as multiple child outcomes.

For those of you who are brave (and patient) enough, you can read my thesis here.

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