As single parenting becomes far more usual than in decades past, experts are taking a deeper look into the health impact of this role on both moms and dads.
And there are consequences.
The health of single mothers has been far more researched and discussed than that of dads. Single moms are more often at risk for cardiovascular disease, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, sleep deprivation issues, and disability and poor health later in life, especially for those who had gave birth before age 20.
Canadian researchers, in a new study, are calling for more to be done on single dads, given that single fathers are that country’s fastest-growing segment of the population.
They say that it’s needed because single dads are twice as likely to report poor physical and mental health as fathers with partners. Solo fathers also experience the same stress and strain as single mothers, which is likely related to their low income or unemployment status.
“We have long known that lone parenthood has negative effects on parents’ health, but few studies focus on the single father population,” lead author Maria Chiu of the University of Toronto told Reuters Health.
Men are more reluctant to seek health services, especially for mental health, because of the stigma attached.
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Single-parent households make up 27 percent of families in the U.S., 25 percent of families in the United Kingdom, and 16 percent of families in Canada, Chiu and her colleagues write in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. In general, Chiu stated, men are more reluctant to seek health services, especially for mental health, because of the stigma attached.
“We need to pay attention to the physical health and mental health of single dads in the same way we do with single moms,” she said. And that would be an incredible step forward, some dads say.
“My opinion is that single moms are given every chance, opportunity, and excuse, while single dads are left to ‘be strong’ on their own,” said Curt Morehouse of Omaha, Nebraska.
“We don’t ask for help, and if we do, there isn’t any offered. I’ve called the local WIC office and asked for help as a single father. The lady laughed and said to sign up for welfare,” he added.
An incredible mental health hurdle many men also face is feeling shut out of their children’s lives. Not every dad is an “absent father,” as it is often presented. And a family law system that fails to recognize that takes a toll.
“I’ve gone to the child support enforcement office at the courthouse and asked where the visitation enforcement office was. They laughed,” Morehouse told LifeZette.
When the courts and others control one’s time with the kids — it hurts, Jim Oswalt, of Overland Park, Kansas, told LifeZette. He knows of dads who have taken their own lives as a result.
“Fathers are generally not perceived as being the ones responsible for caregiving and raising children in a patriarchal society,” Wade told Reuters Health. “Lone mothers generally have more financial stress due to pervasive systemic gendered income inequality, while lone fathers generally have more caregiving stresses.”
The majority of lone fathers in the study were over age 45 and previously married. One in five earned less than $30,000, while 15 percent were unemployed. One in five had two or more chronic medical conditions, and one in 10 had a diagnosed mood or anxiety disorder.
Compared to single mothers, single fathers also had lower fruit and vegetable consumption — and they were more likely to be overweight and binge drinkers.
Is single parenthood a cause or a consequence of poor health? Wade said future research should look at this question. Lone and partnered fathers’ health should also be compared to absent fathers, as that is another vulnerable population that deserves attention.