Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health

Part of the series Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research pp 405-431


Family Status and Mental Health: Recent Advances and Future Directions

  • Debra UmbersonAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin Email author 
  • , Mieke Beth ThomeerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin
  • , Kristi WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, The Ohio State University

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Some of the earliest and most well-known sociological studies showed that marriage was beneficial to mental health, marriage benefited the mental health of men more than women, and parenthood caused psychological distress, especially for women. However, recent longitudinal research, reviewed in this chapter, questions these basic relationships. Recent studies show that though marriage is associated with improved mental health, these improvements are more modest than previously suggested and depend on other factors such as marital quality, race, and age. Cohabitors have higher psychological well-being than the single, though not as high as the married. Longitudinal studies suggest no gender difference in the average mental health benefit associated with transition into marriage. Recent research confirms that parenthood increases psychological distress, especially for young single parents. Future research should use an intersectionality framework to examine how multiple stratification systems work together to influence the relationship between family status and mental health.


Parenthood Family Gender Marriage Marital Status Mental health Stress