Background: Research has shown elevated levels of common mental disorders among single mothers compared with partnered mothers. The objectives of this analysis were to examine the prevalence of mental health problems among single and partnered mothers and the extent to which this relationship is mediated by socio-demographic, financial and social support variables.
Methods: Using cross-sectional data from a large, nationally representative longitudinal Australian household survey--the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey--the prevalence of moderate to severe mental disability (as measured by the SF-36) was assessed among 354 single mothers and 1,689 partnered mothers. A series of univariate and simultaneous logistic regression analyses assessed the association between parenting status, the other explanatory variables and mental disability. Mediational analyses were conducted using the 'explained fraction' approach.
Results: The prevalence of moderate to severe mental disability was significantly more pronounced among single mothers (28.7%) compared with partnered mothers (15.7%). Including all explanatory factors--socio-demographic, household income, financial hardship and social support--accounted for 94% of the association between single mother status and poor mental health. Financial hardship and social support were the strongest predictors, accounting for most of the predictive power of the other variables.
Conclusions: Single mothers are more likely to experience poor mental health than partnered mothers, and the primary factors associated with this are the presence of financial hardship in particular, as well as perceived lack of social support. Future research should examine the extent to which changes in financial hardship among different family types relate to changes in mental health over time, as well as continue to examine variables that may moderate the relationship between social disadvantage and poor mental health.