Psychological distress and socioeconomic status in single mothers and their children in a German city

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2003 Feb;38(2):59-68. doi: 10.1007/s00127-003-0605-8.


Background: The proportion of single mothers in western countries is continuously growing. In contrast to other western countries, support programs in Germany especially for single mothers are rare. This study identifies for the first time in Germany within a large epidemiological sample different subgroups of higher distressed single mothers as important potential target groups for psychosocial support interventions. Facing limited resources, data about these subgroups are helpful to develop and establish specific support programs.

Method: In a cross-section study, family status of a complete cohort of school beginners in Duesseldorf (N = 5178 children, aged 5-7 years) was screened within the school eligibility test (recruitment rate 97.5 %, N = 5048). Out of a total of 891 single mothers, 531 fulfilling inclusion criteria (speaking fluent German, not married, living together with the tested child, informed consent) were compared to a control group of married mothers out of the same sample (N = 278). Socioeconomic status, social network and psychological distress of mothers (SCL-90-R) and children (CBCL) were investigated.

Results: Socioeconomic status (income, education) of single mothers was lower while psychological distress (SCL-90-R) was elevated compared to the control group. Single mothers without additional personal support for their child, younger, as well as poor single mothers showed higher values of psychological distress. In sons of single mothers, increased behavior problems were found (CBCL). Of all children screened, 907 (18 %) lived in single-parent families.

Conclusion: An increased psychological distress of single mothers and their sons could be shown for the first time in Germany within a large epidemiologic sample. This has implications for the planning of preventive interventions and evaluation of associations, e. g., between social variables and distress of single mothers and their children within longitudinal study designs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Single Parent / psychology*
  • Social Class*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Urban Population