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The mental health of single parents in Canada: do gender and geography matter?



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The economic and health disadvantage of Canadian single parents relative to the general population is well documented. Most studies, however, have not considered the effects of gender or urban/rural residence on the mental well-being of single parents. These gaps are important to address given that: 1) single father families are growing at a faster rate than single mother families; and 2) 13% of families residing in rural Canada are headed by single parents. Three research questions guided the study: 1) Does the mental health of single parents vary by gender and/or urban- rural residence? 2) Do single parents’ demographic, socioeconomic, and psychosocial characteristics vary by gender and/or urban- rural residence? and 3) Do the demographic, socioeconomic, and social correlates of single parents’ mental health vary by gender and/or urban- rural residence? Data from Statistics Canada’s 2007-2008 Canadian Community Health Survey (Master file) was used, with analyses focused on a subsample of 18-64 year old single parents. The primary dependent variable was self-rated mental health (fair/poor vs. good/very good/excellent). The other dependent variables were the prevalence of anxiety disorders, mood disorders and binge drinking. The primary independent variables were gender and urban/rural residence; the Metropolitan Influenced Zone (MIZ) classification was used to measure residence. Additional independent variables were included to reflect single parents’ demographic characteristics (age, marital status, Aboriginal identity, number and ages of children), socioeconomic position (e.g. household income, education, income assistance home ownership, food security), and psychosocial characteristics (e.g. sense of community belonging). Bivariate and multiple logistic regression analyses were the main statistical techniques applied. Sampling weights and bootstrapping were used to calculate accurate estimates and associated confidence intervals. iii Results indicated that the proportion of single parents who rated their mental health as “fair or poor” did not differ significantly by gender or urban-rural residence. Single mothers were more likely to report mood and anxiety disorders in comparison with single fathers, though the prevalence did not vary by residence. However, single mothers and single fathers living in Strong/Medium MIZ regions of the nation were more likely to report higher proportions of binge drinking compared to their more urban counterparts. Compared to single fathers, a greater proportion of single mothers resided in urban Canada, were less than 45 years of age, never married, self-identified as Aboriginal, had two or more children, and had a child under or equal to five years of age in the household. On most indicators of socioeconomic position, single mothers were significantly more disadvantaged than single fathers but did not differ significantly on psychosocial measures. Demographically, a greater proportion of rural than urban single mothers were of Aboriginal origin had two or more children, and at least once child under the age of 6 years in the household. Regarding socioeconomic characteristics a higher percentage of rural than urban single mothers indicated receiving social assistance, working part-time and having an annual household income of less than $20,000. No significant differences emerged by residence with respect to employment status, food security, home ownership or perceptions of life stress; however, single mothers living in more rural locals were more likely to rate their sense of community belonging as “somewhat or very strong” When data on single fathers was analyzed (Table 4.6), relatively few differences emerge. However, a greater proportion of urban than rural single fathers had a university education and owned their own home. Single fathers in rural regions were more likely than their urban counterparts to report most days as “quite a bit or extremely” stressful. No other statistically significant differences by residence emerged. iv The results of the multiple logistic regression analyses found the following variables to be associated with increased odds of fair/poor self-rated mental health: older age, low household income, being unemployed, being food insecure, experiencing higher levels of life stress and a weaker sense of community belonging. The relationship between demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial characteristics and self-rated mental health was not modified by gender or urban-rural residence. Thus, the findings of this study will help policy makers identify the factors that adversely affect the mental health of single parents in Canada.



Single Parents, Urban- Rural Divide, Mental Health, Single Fathers



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Community Health and Epidemiology


Community and Population Health Science


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