People brought up by one parent are slightly more likely than their peers with intact families to have problems in young adulthood, but this appears to be due to related factors such as a greater likelihood of being poor, rather than single parenthood itself, New Zealand researchers conclude.
Dr David M. Fergusson and colleagues from Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences note that while some social policy leaders have called for discouraging single parenthood in order to prevent childhood problems, their findings suggest governments would be better off focusing on improving family function, "rather than on a count of the number of parents in the home."
Fergusson and his colleagues looked at 971 people who had been followed from birth to age 25. Study participants were asked if they had been raised by a single parent at any point in their lives and if so for how many years.
Several ill effects among 21- to 25-year olds were associated with greater exposure to single parenthood, Fergusson and his team found, including risk of depression and anxiety disorders, attempted suicide, unemployment, being on welfare, and having been arrested or convicted of a crime.
Single-parent living not only to blame
But when the researchers used statistical techniques to account for other factors that could be related to both single parenthood and problems in adulthood, such as mother's age, family's socioeconomic status, sexual abuse, parental criminal record and parental drug use, the effects of living with only one parent disappeared for most factors.
The only factors that remained linked to growing up with a single parent in and of itself were risk of anxiety disorder and the likelihood of being on welfare.
The researchers pointed out that most people brought up by single parents don't have mental health or other problems, and that many people who do develop such problems as young adults were not raised by single parents.
"These findings clearly suggest that the associations between single parenthood and later adverse outcomes largely reflected the social context within which single parenthood occurred, rather than the direct effect of single parenthood on individual functioning," the researchers conclude. – (Reuters Health)
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