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
2015

In the Slough in Sweden: Depressed Teens Living with Single Parents


Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King


Children will flourish regardless of family structure so long as government provides sufficient support to single-parent families. So progressive theorists have argued for decades. Unfortunately, evidence to the contrary continues to accumulate. The latest indication that family structure powerfully affects children’s well-being regardless of government policy comes from Sweden, widely regarded as the land of heart’s desire by progressives. 

Completed by a team of public-health officials in Stockholm, this new study analyzes the prevalence of depression among Swedish adolescents. The researchers begin their inquiry conscious that “mental ill-health is the largest public health problem in high-income countries, the second largest contributor to years lived with disabilities (DLL) in the world and the number one problem among 10-14 year olds in Canada and the US.” What is more, concerns about mental health have grown more acute as “self-reported depressive symptoms have increased among young people of both genders in the past two decades.” The authors of the new study regard this surge in mental-health problems among young people as “especially worrisome given that depression in adolescence, including subclinical depression, is a risk factor for a clinical depression later in life as well as for other types of mental ill-health, substance abuse, suicide and low educational attainment and unemployment.”

To assess the psychological distress of young Swedes, the researchers parse data from 3,020 adolescents tracked from 1998 to 2010. These data highlight the psychological vulnerability of Swedish adolescents living with a single adult (typically, a single mother) instead of two adults (usually, their parents). “Living exclusively with one adult almost tripled the risk of depressive symptoms [Odds Ratio of 2.8],” the researchers report. “Moreover, it was found that girls were particularly vulnerable to depressive symptoms when . . . living exclusively with one adult.”

The authors of this new study interpret their findings against the backdrop of earlier research suggesting that “children growing up in two-parent families suffer less frequently from cognitive, emotional and social problems” than do peers in single-parent families, peers who “appear to be at increased risk of psychiatric disease and suicide.” The researchers also cite earlier studies concluding that “witnessing family changes, e.g. separation or divorce,” constitutes “a stressful life event that . . . is a risk factor for depression” and that “paternal absence . . . [may] explain higher risks of depressive symptoms.”

The researchers recognize that their findings underscore the vulnerability of children living in single-parent homes even when those homes are found in a “welfare system . . . built on efforts to achieve full employment, relatively generous benefit levels, high-quality public care services, and relatively small inequalities between genders as well as between different socioeconomic groups.” In other words, “living in a single-parent home . . . [is] likely to increase the risk of depressive symptoms among adolescents even in societies with a strong welfare system.”

Progressives will no doubt persist in their advocacy for an agenda that undermines marriage and family life, while continuing to assure skeptics that generous government programs will ensure the well-being of the children affected by marital and family breakdown. As a matter of feminist principle, progressives give particularly strong assurances for the well-being of young women. The latest report from Stockholm renders these progressive assurances bitterly risible.

(Therese Wirback et al., “Social Factors in Childhood and Risk of Depressive Symptoms Among Adolescents—a Longitudinal Study in Stockholm, Sweden,” International Journal for Equity in Health 13.1 [2014]: 96, Web.)

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