Stress, social support and depression in single and married mothers

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2003 Aug;38(8):442-9. doi: 10.1007/s00127-003-0661-0.


Background: This study examined the effect of stress and social support on the relationship between single-parent status and depression.

Method: A secondary data analysis of the 1994-95 National Population Health Survey was conducted. Single and married mothers who participated in the survey were derived from the general sample (N = 2,921). Logistic regression techniques were used to assess the mediating and moderating effects of stress and social support on the relationship between family structure and depression.

Results: Bivariate analyses showed that, compared to married mothers, single mothers were more likely to have suffered an episode of depression (12-month prevalence), to report higher levels of chronic stress, more recent life events and a greater number of childhood adversities. Single mothers also reported lower levels of perceived social support, social involvement and frequency of contact with friends and family than married mothers. The results of the multivariate analyses showed that, together, stress and social support account for almost 40% of the relationship between single- parent status and depression. We also found a conditional effect of stress on depression by family structure. Life events were more strongly related to depression in married than in single mothers.

Conclusions: A substantial part of the association between single-parent status and depression can be accounted for by differences in exposure to stress and social support. Our results suggest that it is important to examine multiple sources of stress, as exposure to both distal and proximal stressors were higher among single mothers. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Single Parent / psychology*
  • Single Parent / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*