National Post

Friday, January 24, 2003

Children of single parents suffer poorer health: study

Eight years of research

Brad Evenson
National Post

Children raised by single parents are twice as likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, to attempt or complete suicide and suffer injury than kids raised in two-parent households, a Swedish study suggests.

Published today in The Lancet, the eight-year study of nearly one million boys and girls also said children of single parents were up to four times likelier to abuse narcotics and alcohol.

Public health experts have argued the biggest reason for poor health among children of single parents is poverty. But in Sweden, less than 10% of lone mothers are poor, thanks to a generous system of welfare supports.

"It also protects them from joblessness -- the vast majority of [single parents] are working and many are working full-time," notes Margaret Whitehead, a professor of public health at the University of Liverpool, who wrote a commentary on the study.

The Swedish researchers say a big underlying problem may be "time poverty" -- when "family and employment policies ... do not recognize the special needs of the single parents" as the sole breadwinners and caregivers.

The researchers found 65,000 children living in single-parent homes in 1985 and 1990, and compared them to 920,000 children from two-parent homes.

Even when poverty, mental illness and addiction of parents was accounted for, "children of lone parents still have increased risks of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury," said lead researcher Gunilla Ringbäck Weitoft of the University of Umea.

However, Dr. Weitoft cautioned against reading too much into the findings, since such "severe outcomes" are fairly rare, and many children grow up healthy and well-adjusted with just one parent.

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