New Single Mothers Sing the Blues

Mothers in any social circumstance can experience what physicians label “postpartum depression.” Yet, research suggests that single mothers are decidedly more vulnerable to such postpartum distress than are married mothers. To determine the prevalence of postpartum depression and its antecedents, a team of psychologists from the University of Iowa analyzed data collected for 4,332 new mothers in four Iowa counties. Among “the significant demographic predictors of postpartum depression,” marital status stands out: compared to being married, “being single” meant “increased risk for depression.” While just 11 percent of the married women suffered from postpartum depression, 28 percent of the single mothers did (p<.001). Further analysis of the data in multivariate statistical models suggests that unmarried mothers are particularly prone to postpartum depression in large measure because of the “social stress” that comes with the relative impoverishment typical of unmarried mothers. “Financially poor women,” the Iowa scholars explain, “are exposed to increased stress and decreased coping responses and resources, which, in turn, lead to depression.” Though the focus of this study is mothers’ mental well-being, it is hard not to wonder if babies do not suffer if their birth sends their mother into mental misery—and their father is nowhere to be seen. (Lisa S. Segre et al., “The Prevalence of Postpartum Depression: The Relative Significance of Three Social Status Indicators,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 42 [2007]: 316–21.)
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