Clarifying the relationship between parenthood and depression

J Health Soc Behav. 2005 Dec;46(4):341-58. doi: 10.1177/002214650504600403.


Unlike other major adult social roles in the United States, parenthood does not appear to confer a mental health advantage for individuals. However, while research has examined parental status differences in emotional well-being, relatively little is known about variations in emotional distress among parents. In this article, we clarify the relationship between parenthood and current symptoms of depression using data from the National Survey of Families and Households. The analyses provide support for our first hypothesis: Parenthood is not associated with enhanced mental health since there is no type of parent who reports less depression than nonparents. We also find support for our second hypothesis: Certain types of parenthood are associated with more depression than others. Additionally, although we find marital status differences in symptoms among parents, there are no gender differences in the association between parenthood and depression. We discuss the implications of our findings for ongoing theoretical debates about the advantages of social role involvement for mental health as well as the meaning of contemporary parenthood in the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Collection
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology