In romantic comedies, single dads are typically fun and happy, needing just the love of a good woman to make their worlds perfect. Sadly, the reality is not nearly so positive. In fact, new research suggests that fathers raising their children alone are at higher risk for health problems than their peers who have a partner to share the family responsibilities.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Toronto in Canada, found that single fathers have twice the rate of both mental health issues and poor physical health as dads who have a partner.1 Chiu, Maria; et al. “Self-rated health and mental health of lone fathers compared with lone mothers and partnered fathers: a population-based cross-sectional study.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 6 December 2016. Accessed 4 January 2017. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2016/11/28/jech-2016-208005.abstract?sid=19d9e387-714d-4721-accd-2df96f8c4078. The subjects were 1,058 single dads who completed Canadian Community Health Surveys from 2001 through 2013. These questionnaires were completed by both men and women from all types of households in order to obtain information on various aspects of their health.
Using a five-point system to rate a variety of health factors, the participants could provide answers ranging from poor to excellent. As it turns out, they had similar rates to single mothers, with approximately 12 percent of the single father volunteers calling their health either poor or fair. And single dads were twice as likely as dads with partners to report that both their physical and mental health were poor or fair.
While we tend to think of single mothers as hurting financially and perhaps not always well employed, this investigation suggests that the same may be true for a substantial segment of single fathers too. The lone father subjects were mostly 45 or older and had been married. Approximately 15 percent were unemployed and 20 percent had an income of under $30,000. Not surprisingly, when the researchers controlled for influential factors including age and race, the single dads who had physical and mental health issues were more likely to earn less money, have completed a lower level of education, and be unemployed.
As far as health was concerned, 20 percent of the single dads had been diagnosed with at least two chronic medical problems, and 10 percent reported a mood or anxiety disorder. And in certain ways, they actually fared worse than the single mother participants, as the men had a lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, a greater likelihood of being overweight, and more frequent binge drinking.
While these findings may not come as any shock to people familiar with the challenges of single parenthood, much more research has been focused on the hurdles faced by mothers rather than fathers. For instance, a 2015 study at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts showed evidence of long-term health problems and disabilities faced by many single mothers.2 Berkman, Lisa F.; et al. “Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 14 May 2015. Accessed 5 January 2017. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2015/04/10/jech-2014-205149.abstract. However, the current research is one of very few to acknowledge that single fathers encounter many of the same physical and mental issues as well as economic challenges as their female counterparts.
This is bad news because children can be impacted in negative ways when a parent has a chronic health condition. A 2010 study at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands found that having a physically sick parent is associated with anxiety, depressive disorders, and behavioral problems in their offspring.3 Sieh, D.S.; et al. “Problem Behavior in Children of Chronically Ill Parents: A Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. December 2010. Accessed 5 January 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2975921/. And that isn’t specific to single-parent households, either. So if the kids are only dependent on one parent to raise them and that parent has significant health issues, it is likely that the problems may be even further exacerbated.
Plus, single-parent households are quite common in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of families according to the Pew Research Center. And the rate of single-father households has risen considerably over the past several decades, now representing almost 25 percent of all single-parent households. All of this could add up to a whole lot of health problems among a growing number of unmarried fathers.
If you are a single parent, mother or father, it’s essential to have a support system you can lean on. Friends and family can make a big difference when you are not feeling your best, for example. Ask people for help when you need it and return the favor in any small way that you can when you are able. And don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way. Whatever it takes, find some way to eat nutritiously, exercise, and find a little downtime for relaxation. You may be amazed what an improvement a healthy lifestyle can make on your outlook and your overall wellbeing.
|↑1||Chiu, Maria; et al. “Self-rated health and mental health of lone fathers compared with lone mothers and partnered fathers: a population-based cross-sectional study.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 6 December 2016. Accessed 4 January 2017. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2016/11/28/jech-2016-208005.abstract?sid=19d9e387-714d-4721-accd-2df96f8c4078.|
|↑2||Berkman, Lisa F.; et al. “Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 14 May 2015. Accessed 5 January 2017. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2015/04/10/jech-2014-205149.abstract.|
|↑3||Sieh, D.S.; et al. “Problem Behavior in Children of Chronically Ill Parents: A Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. December 2010. Accessed 5 January 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2975921/.|