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New study finds that parenthood is one of the risk factors for increased depressive symptoms

Oxford University Press USA

An article to be released at 9 a.m. eastern on February 5, 2015 by Social Work titled, "Gender Differences in Depression across Parental Roles" by Kevin Shafer and Garrett T. Pace explores how combined parental roles--biological, stepparent, cohabitating, non-cohabitating--influence depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers. The authors also look at gender differences. Their results indicate that having multiple parental roles is negatively associated with psychological well-being for both men and women, whereas childlessness is more negative for women, and specific parental role combinations affect mothers and fathers differently.

These results open up many questions--does the father owe more time and fathering to their biological child, in spite of the fact that they do not co-reside? Or, does attention fall to the stepchild? And, does the presence of a new child make both the biological and stepchild feel pushed aside for the new child from the new relationship? Why do women without children experience more depressive symptoms, on average, than men? These are increasingly more common as families in the United States become increasingly diverse.

These results suggest that, when screening for depression, social workers and other mental health professionals should find out what, if any, parenting role(s) that person has, as these role(s) may increase depressive symptoms. It also demonstrates the utility of detailed family demographics and addressing some of the complexities of postmodern parenthood in explaining parental mental health.

Kevin Shafer, PhD, is assistant professor, School of Social Work, Brigham Young University. His research interests include stepfamilies, fathering in the US and Latin America, men's mental health and help-seeking in the US and Latin America. Garrett T. Pace, MSW, is a research specialist, population research, in the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. At Princeton, he helps facilitate the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a birth cohort study of urban families. His research interests include family relationships, child wellbeing, stratification, program evaluation, quantitative methodologies, and autistic spectrum disorders.


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