Gender differences in the mental health of single parents: New Zealand evidence from a household panel survey

  • Sunny Collings
  • Gabrielle JenkinEmail author
  • Kristie Carter
  • Louise Signal
Original Paper



In many countries single parents report poorer mental health than partnered parents. This study investigates whether there are gender differences in the mental health of single parents in New Zealand (and whether any gender difference varies with that among partnered parents), and examines key social and demographic mediators that may account for this difference.


We used data on 905 single parents and 4,860 partnered parents from a New Zealand household panel survey that included the Kessler-10 measure of psychological distress. Linear regression analyses were used to investigate both interactions of gender and parental status, and confounding or mediation by other covariates.


High/very high levels of psychological distress were reported by 15.7 % of single mothers and 9.1 % of single fathers, and 6.1 % of partnered mothers and 4.1 % of partnered fathers. In an Ordinary Least Squares regression of continuous K10 scores on gender, parental status and the interaction of both (plus adjustment for ethnicity, number of children and age), female single parents had a 1.46 higher K10 score than male single parents (95 % CI 0.48–2.44; 1.46). This difference was 0.98 (95 % CI −0.04 to 1.99) points greater than the gender difference among partnered parents. After controlling for further confounding or mediating covariates (educational level, labour force status and socioeconomic deprivation) both the gender difference among single parents (0.38, −0.56 to 1.31) and the interaction of gender and parental status (0.28 greater gender difference among single parents, −0.69 to 1.65) greatly reduced in magnitude and became non-significant, mainly due to adjustment for individual socioeconomic deprivation.


The poorer mental health of single parents remains an important epidemiological phenomenon. Although research has produced mixed findings of the nature of gender differences in the mental health of single parents, our research adds to the increasing evidence that it is single mothers who have worse mental health. Our findings on the potential explanations of the gender difference in sole parent mental health suggest that socioeconomic deprivation is a key contributor.


Mental health/epidemiology Single parent Sex Family New Zealand 



SoFIE-Health is primarily funded by a Programme Grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand as part of the Health Inequalities Research Programme. We thank Professor Tony Blakely, the Director and initiator of the Research Programme, for his comments on the draft manuscript. This analysis was funded by a University of Otago Research Grant. The authors declare they have no financial involvement or affiliation with any organisation whose financial interests may be affected by material in the manuscript, or which might potentially bias it.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sunny Collings
    • 1
  • Gabrielle Jenkin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristie Carter
    • 2
  • Louise Signal
    • 3
  1. 1.Social Psychiatry and Population Mental Health Research UnitUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Health Inequalities Research ProgrammeUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand
  3. 3.Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, Department of Public HealthUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand

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