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Parent's mental health and child wellbeing : the impact of fathers by residential status.

Publication Year: 
2006
Personal Author: 
Meadows, Sarah O.
McLanahan, Sara S.
Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne.
Corporate Author: 
Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing.
Technical Report
Page Count: 
42

The association between parental mental health problems and child wellbeing has rarely been examined in the context of non-traditional families. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), this analysis exploits the full range of parent relationship types, including married, cohabiting, and non-resident relationships, to examine the effects of having one parent with major depressive disorder (MDE) and/or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and two parents with MDE/GAD on child's behavior problems at age three. We find that maternal mental illness is associated with increased odds of child's anxious/depressed, attention deficit, and oppositional defiant disorders, regardless of family structure, whereas the effect of paternal psychopathology depends primarily on fathers' residential status. We find some evidence of a multiplicative effect associated with having two ill parents, but only when fathers are coresident. Overall, the negative impact of dual-parent psychopathology appears to be additive. Among coresident parents, results do not vary by whether parents are married or cohabiting, and among non-coresident parents, they do not different by the level of father involvement. The findings suggest that mothers' mental health is ultimately more important than fathers' for healthy child development. (Author abstract)

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