The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Winter
2011

Mired in Deep Depression


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Motherhood is never easy. But it is particularly difficult for women who spend their childrearing years stuck in permanent depression. Those unfortunate women are disproportionately single-parent mothers. Indeed, a robust connection between single motherhood and long-lasting depression stands out as one of the major findings of a study by an international team of public-health scholars from the University of Oregon and the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development.

Looking at approximately 1,000 Norwegian households, this international team tracked the psychological well-being of the mother in each household as she raised a pre-identified child from the age of 18 months to 14.5 years old. The data from this thirteen-year survey revealed that mothers suffering from high levels of depression over an extended period were disproportionately single mothers.

“The mothers in the High-chronic [depression] group,” note the researchers, “were less likely to report living with a partner. Chi-Square tests showed that there were overall significant differences between the groups in relation to partner status at t[ime] 1 when the index child was 18 months. . . . This trend was stable throughout the study and we found overall significant differences in partner status between the groups at all six time points.”

Through further statistical analysis, the researchers “confirmed that a lower proportion of the mothers in the High-chronic group are living with a partner than statistically expected at all six time points.” The same kind of analysis established that in “the Low [depression] group there are more mothers . . . with a partner than expected at t[ime] 4 and t[ime] 6.” What is more, the statistical linkage between single motherhood and elevated symptoms of depression was “consistent for the high symptom group throughout the child-rearing phase, not only at one time point.” In other words, single motherhood translates into heightened and long-lasting vulnerability to depression, while dual-parent motherhood means significant and long-lasting protection against depression.

Deploying the morally antiseptic language now required among politically correct social scientists, the researchers speak of the “partner status” of the mothers in their study. However, the real issue emerges when they connect their findings with those of a 2009 American study finding that “women with few symptoms [of psychological distress] were more likely to be married.”

Captives of the political orthodoxy of their profession, the researchers conclude with the usual weary recommendations calling for public-health officials “to pay attention to specific risk factors among mothers in order to establish effective intervention and prevention programs.” But the findings of this study make clear that the “intervention” that matters most will be the one that sets the wedding bells ringing.

(Anni Skipstein, Harald Janson, Mike Stoolmiller, and Kristin S. Mathiesen, “Trajectories of Maternal Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A 13-year Longitudinal Study of a Population-Based Sample,” BMC Public Health 10 [October 6, 2010]: 589, emphasis added.)

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