Exposure to Single Parenthood in Childhood and Later Mental Health, Educational, Economic, and Criminal Behavior Outcomes | Pediatrics | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network
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Original Article
September 2007

Exposure to Single Parenthood in Childhood and Later Mental Health, Educational, Economic, and Criminal Behavior Outcomes

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(9):1089-1095. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.9.1089

Context  There has been a great deal of research and speculation on the impact of growing up in a single-parent household; however, it is unclear whether exposure to single parenthood is a direct cause of adverse life outcomes.

Objective  To examine the associations between the extent of exposure to single parenthood in childhood and later mental health, educational, economic, and criminal behavior outcomes, before and after controlling for potentially confounding factors.

Design  Data were gathered during the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 25-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of New Zealand children (635 males and 630 females).

Setting  General community sample.

Participants  The analysis was based on a sample of 971 participants with available data on exposure to single parenthood from birth to the age of 16 years. This sample represented 76.8% of the initial cohort.

Main Outcome Measures  The DSM-IV symptom criteria for major depression, anxiety disorders, and substance dependence, for those aged 21 to 25 years; suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, for those aged 21 to 25 years; achieving a university degree or other tertiary education qualification, for those aged 21 to 25 years; welfare dependence and unemployment, for those aged 21 to 25 years; annual income at the age of 25 years; arrest or conviction, for those aged 21 to 25 years; and self-reported violent and property offenses, for those aged 21 to 25 years.

Results  There were significant associations between the extent of exposure to single parenthood and anxiety disorder (P = .003), achieving a tertiary qualification or university degree (P < .001 for both), welfare dependence and personal income (P < .001 for both), arrest or conviction (P < .001), and violent and property offenses (P = .001). After adjustment for confounding factors, the associations between exposure to single parenthood and most outcomes were explained.

Conclusion  The associations between exposure to single parenthood in childhood and outcomes in young adulthood may be explained by the social and contextual factors that are associated with exposure to single parenthood.