Background: Growing up with one parent has become increasingly common, and seems to entail disadvantages in terms of socioeconomic circumstances and health. We aimed to investigate differences in mortality, severe morbidity, and injury between children living in households with one adult and those living in households with two adults.
Methods: In this population-based study, we assessed overall and cause-specific mortality between 1991 and 1998 and risk of admission between 1991 and 1999 for 65085 children with single parents and 921257 children with two parents. We estimated relative risks by Poisson regression, adjusted for factors that might be presumed to select people into single parenthood, and for other factors, mainly resulting from single parenthood, that might have affected the relation between type of parenting and risk.
Findings: Children with single parents showed increased risks of psychiatric disease, suicide or suicide attempt, injury, and addiction. After adjustment for confounding factors, such as socioeconomic status and parents' addiction or mental disease, children in single-parent households had increased risks compared with those in two-parent households for psychiatric disease in childhood (relative risk for girls 2.1 [95% CI 1.9-2.3] and boys 2.5 [2.3-2.8]), suicide attempt (girls 2.0 [1.9-2.2], boys 2.3 [2.1-2.6]), alcohol-related disease (girls 2.4 [2.2-2.7], boys 2.2 [2.0-2.4]), and narcotics-related disease (girls 3.2 [2.7-3.7], boys 4.0 [3.5-4.5]). Boys in single-parent families were more likely to develop psychiatric disease and narcotics-related disease than were girls, and they also had a raised risk of all-cause mortality.
Conclusions: Growing up in a single-parent family has disadvantages to the health of the child. Lack of household resources plays a major part in increased risks. However, even when a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic circumstances are included in multivariate models, children of single parents still have increased risks of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury.