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Keywords:

  • single parent family;
  • child health questionnaire;
  • New Zealand

Abstract

Objective: To investigate whether children in sole-parent families in New Zealand bear excess risks of poor mental and physical health relative to children in two parent families.

Data sources and statistical methods: The data source was the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey, a nationally representative household survey that sampled 502 children (5-14 years) of sole mothers and 1,281 children of partnered mothers.

Results: Children of sole mothers were 1.26 (0.94 – 2.69) times as likely as children of partnered mothers to return a low PhS score. Adjusting for maternal health and family socio-economic disadvantage eliminated this weak association (which in any case was of borderline statistical significance).

Children of sole mothers were more than twice as likely as children of partnered mothers to return a low PsS score, adjusting for demographic variables only.

Conclusions: There is only a weak negative association (if any) between sole-parenting and child physical health, but a stronger association with child mental health – consistent with most of the New Zealand and international literature. The association with child mental health is largely (but possibly not completely) ‘explained’ by the poorer mental health of sole-parents and the poorer socio-economic circumstances of single-parent families (on average).

Implications: These findings support policies aiming to improve access of sole-parents and their children to community mental health services, and (more especially) policies aiming to ameliorate the disadvantaged economic circumstances of single parent families.