Lone parents’ mental health and employment

Published on 1 January 2013


Gingerbread, in partnership with the University of Bath, looked at the relationship between paid employment and mental health for single parents. The paper finds that being in work which allows single parents to balance work with looking after children has a positive effect on single parents’ mental health and wellbeing. However, working hours which single parents do not want (more or fewer) does not bring the same benefits.

Key findings

  • For single mothers, paid work was strongly associated with improved mental health outcomes in 2003-2008 – in contrast with a decade earlier, when both those in and out of work faced a high risk of depression
  • The improvement in single parent mental health is related to policies introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s which made it easier to balance work and care – eg tax credits, state support for childcare and the New Deal for Lone Parents
  • Paid work which allowed single mothers to satisfactorily balance work and care mattered most to improved mental health – this had a more significant impact on reducing the risk of depression than income
  • Without additional policy support to help single parents balance work and home life, financial incentives designed to encourage longer working hours may not have the desired effect
  • Welfare reforms which simply increase the pressure to move into any job or work longer hours may risk increasing maternal depression as a result.