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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Children living with single mothers are at greater risk for social,
academic and psychiatric problems than their peers who live in two-parent families. But according to
Canadian researchers, factors such as family income, a mother’s depression or a hostile parenting
style–not single status by itself–accounts for at least part of this risk.

“The results suggest that children from single-mother families develop difficulties for the same reasons
as children from two-parent families,” conclude Dr. Ellen L. Lipman from McMaster University in
Hamilton, Ontario, and colleagues.

High levels of stress associated with low family income can undermine attempts to provide supportive
and consistent parenting. Likewise, depressed mothers may be emotionally unavailable to their
children, which can lead to low self-esteem and social problems. These problems, which can occur in
any family, are more likely to occur in single-mother families, the researchers explain.

Their study is published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry.

The researchers reviewed information on more than 9,000 children aged 6 to 11 who took part in a
national youth survey in Canada. Children living with single mothers were found to be at greater risk of
developing a number of problems than their peers living with two parents, including low math scores
and psychiatric difficulties.

Higher household income decreased the risk of social and psychiatric problems, however, and was
associated with higher math scores. A higher level of maternal education was also linked with higher
math scores and fewer psychiatric problems while maternal depression and, in particular, hostile
parenting were closely tied to the risk of developing social and psychiatric problems.

The findings underscore the need for programs that target parenting practices that may interfere with a
child’s development, whether those parents are single or married, the researchers conclude.

“With few exceptions, income support programs, programs that allow mothers to increase their
education, and programs aimed at alleviating depression have the potential to increase child well-being
in single-mother and two-parent families alike,” they write.

In Canada, about 20% of children live in a single-parent family and mothers make up 83% of single

SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2002;41:75-82.

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