Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Eric S. Buhs

Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychological Studies in Education, Under the Supervision of Professor Eric S. Buhs Lincoln, Nebraska November, 2018.

Copyright (c) 2018 Lanyan Ding


Background: Left-Behind Children (LBC) refers to children who are under 18 and must live separately from at least one of their parents for longer than six months because of parents’ labor migration (Zhou & Duan, 2006). The long-term family separation might greatly impair the family environment and increase the risk of developing depression among LBC. This research examined the relationships among family structure (left-behind status), caregiving, and child depression using archival data from the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) in both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

Methods: In Study 1, multilevel regression analyses investigated how contextual factors (family structure and caregiving) and personal characteristics (age and gender) related to children’s depressive symptoms in a CFPS 2012 sample of 2,936 Chinese children aged 10-15. In Study 2, latent growth analyses examined the predictive role of family structure and child age/gender in the developmental trajectory of depressive symptoms in a sample of 1,588 Chinese children aged 10-19 from CFPS 2010 to 2014.

Results: In Study 1, multilevel regression analyses revealed that the family structure did not have a significant effect over and above the influence of caregiving. Children reporting more positive caregiving tended to experience fewer depressive symptoms. The interactive effects of the family structure and caregiving did not influence child depressive symptoms. In Study 2, latent growth analyses indicated that paternal absence significantly predicted a more increase in depression over time compared to non-LBC. Maternal absence significantly predicted a less increase in depression compared to non-LBC. Importantly, LBC who have been cared for by non-parent guardians (usually grandparents) indicated no significant effects on concurrent depressive symptoms or developmental trajectories in depressive symptoms over time.

Conclusions: The present findings indicated that child depressive symptoms were significantly associated with the family structure, caregiving, and child age. Understanding how familial and individual factors may affect the development of child depressive symptoms is critical for the development of prevention and intervention strategies. Findings supported the premise that training to increase parenting skills and responsiveness of guardians has the potential to reduce the risk of depressive symptoms in LBC.

Advisor: Eric S. Buhs