Single dads are twice as likely to report poor physical and mental health as fathers with partners, according to a new Canadian study.
In addition, solo fathers experience the same stress and tension, such as single mothers, who are likely low income and unemployment, researchers say.
“We have long known that single parenting has negative effects on the parents of the health, but few studies focus on the single father population,” said lead author Maria Chiu of the University of Toronto.
Single parent families make up 27 percent of the families in the U.S., 25 percent of the families in the United Kingdom and 16 percent of families in Canada, Chiu and her colleagues write in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
“We know that, in general, men are more reluctant in seeking health care, particularly mental health, because of the stigma attached,” she told Reuters Health. “We must pay attention to the physical health and mental health of single fathers in the same way we do with some mama’s.”
Chiu and colleagues looked at the responses of 1,058 single fathers in the Canadian Community Health Surveys between 2001 and 2013. About 12 percent of the single fathers and single mothers reported poor or fair health on a five-point scale, ranging from “poor” to “excellent.” Single fathers are two times as often the fathers to rate both their physical and mental health as ‘ poor/fair.”
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“The single-father household is the fastest growing form of family in Canada,” said Bart Wade of Brock University in Ontario, who are not involved in the study.
In Canada, the number of single fathers has increased at a faster rate than single mothers and single fathers now make up 21 percent of the single parents, Chiu’s team writes.
“Fathers are not generally observed of societally as those who are responsible for the care and upbringing of children in a patriarchal society,” Wade told Reuters Health by e-mail. “Single mothers generally have more financial stress by profound systemic gendered inequality of income, while single fathers are generally more caregiving stresses.”
The majority of the single fathers included in the analysis were over the age of 45, and a previous marriage. One in five earned less than $ 30,000 and 15 percent are unemployed. One in five had two or more chronic diseases, and one in 10 had a diagnosis of mood or anxiety disorder. In comparison with lone mothers, lone fathers also have fewer fruit and vegetable consumption, and were more likely to be overweight and binge drinkers.
Overall, after controlling for demographic characteristics such as age and race, single fathers with poorer health and mental health are more likely to have a lower income and a lower educational level and to be unemployed.
Future research should look at whether single parenthood is a cause or a consequence of poor health, the authors of the study note. In addition, the researchers should compare lone and together fathers absent fathers, said Andrew Howlett of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who was not involved in the study.
“Absentee fathers are another vulnerable male population that deserves attention,” Howlett told Reuters Health. “It is unclear whether the men that the transition from absent fathers the single fathers experience deterioration or improvement of their well-being.”
Policy change can help more single fathers access to social assistance and support of the child, Chiu said.
“That is not to say that the services available to mothers is not extended to single fathers, but we have to take into account for men are more likely to seek help,” Chiu said. “There are opportunities for us to examine structural barriers that exist so that everyone can better receive the services they need.”