Single mothers most at risk of poor mental health

December 16, 2013 by Ilka Pelzer

Single parents tend to have poorer mental health than partnered parents, with single mothers particularly at risk, new research from the University of Otago Wellington (UOW) shows.

The study of nearly 4,860 partnered and 905 single showed single fared considerably worse than single fathers in terms – 16% of single mothers and 9% of single fathers reported high or very high levels of psychological distress. This compared with 6 % of partnered mothers and 4% of partnered fathers.

Lead researcher and UOW Dean Professor Sunny Collings says the most striking gender difference potentially relevant in explaining the poorer mental health of single mothers were having a pre-school age child, being unemployed, and socio-economic deprivation.

The research team found that having a pre-school age child was twice as common among single mothers than single fathers, and single fathers were more likely than single mothers to be in paid employment, she says.

"Furthermore, while a much higher proportion of single parents experience socio-economic deprivation compared with partnered parents, things tend to be worse for single mothers – our study showed 43% of single mothers experiencing high deprivation compared to 23% for single fathers."

Professor Collings says the significant gender differences in the mental health of single parents is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

A high level public policy approach to address the socio-economic deprivation experienced by female- headed single-parent families, both in and out of work, is needed, she says.

"New Zealand's social welfare system has not prioritised mental health, let along single mothers living in poor socioeconomic circumstances.

"Policymakers need to include good mental health, alongside paid employment, as a desirable outcome for single parent families.

This is particularly important in light of the evidence of the link between poor parental mental health and that of their children, Professor Collings says.

She notes that while single fathers are at less than , the research shows they're still at greater risk than partnered parents.

With the proportion of families headed by a single father increasing, it's important to recognise their mental health needs are met too, particularly as men are less likely than women to seek mental health care. Twelve per cent of single parent families in the study were headed by .

The research has just been published in the online journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Explore further: First time parenting a positive experience for mental health, researchers find

Related Stories

Kids of single moms who later marry reap few benefits

October 11, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—With roughly four in 10 of all U.S. births now to unwed mothers, a new longitudinal study by Cornell demographers is the first to show that being raised in a single-parent home poses significant risks to ...

Incarceration has no effect on nonresident fathers' parenting

December 11, 2013

A prison sentence may not always have negative consequences for children of the incarcerated, says University of California, Irvine sociologist Kristin Turney. In a new study, she finds that when an uninvolved dad spends ...

Recommended for you

Is neuroticism fueled by overthinking?

August 27, 2015

Isaac Newton was a classic neurotic. He was a brooder and a worrier, prone to dwelling on the scientific problems before him as well as his childhood sins. But Newton also had creative breakthroughs—thoughts on physics ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
How did this study make it though the Progressive media censors?

I thought the Progressive Media had no issues with single motherhood.....

So here we have it again, marriage with traditional mother + traditional father = best for children

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.