Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy

Lone parents' mental health and employment


Principal Investiagtor: Susan Harkness

Funder: Nuffield Foundation

Duration: January 2010 - December 2012


Project rationale and aims

The proposed research explores a set of crucial issues around lone parents’ participation in paid employment and their mental health. There are three core questions:

  1. Does employment alleviate depression among lone parents?
  2. To what extent does job quality matter?
  3. How does current employment policy affect mental health outcomes?

The project responds to a significant gap in the research literature; a large body of research on lone parent employment and a substantial literature on employment and mental health exist, but these two literatures do not connect or overlap.

The research will use quantitative research methods to analyse the relationship between work and depression drawing on a number of existing large surveys. This research will be followed up by a small-scale qualitative survey to conduct a preliminary exploration of the findings on the relationship between work and depression that arise from the quantitative analysis.

The key questions that our research aims to answer, primarily through quantitative research but supported by a small scale qualitative follow-up study, are:

  • How does employment influence depression among lone parents? In particular, what evidence is there that transitions into and out of work reduce or exacerbate depression?
  • To what extent does the lower incidence of depression in the existing stock of working lone parents support the role of employment in reducing the incidence of lone parent depression?
  • How does the quality of work influence depression (including wages, job satisfaction, hours of work, work timing and flexibility and career prospects)?  Do gains to mental health accrue equally to those in low quality jobs?
  • Under what circumstances does work not reduce depression? Of particular importance are potential cumulative and interactive effects of depression with other factors.
  • How is depression linked to relationship breakdown, job loss and other major life events? What factors, in particular those relating to work, influence the ability of lone parents to better cope with these transitions?
  • How is the effect of work on depression influenced by lone parents’ sense of identity? Do lone parents who are more family orientated and less ‘work ready’ have smaller mental health gains as a result of working? Are they less likely to be depressed out of work?
  • How has the link between depression and work changed over time? Has welfare reform changed the relationship between depression and work?

Find out more about this project