Mental health of single mothers in Australia

Tania Dey, Andreas Cebulla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This study aims to examine mental health amongst two cohorts of single mothers in Australia before and after major social welfare reforms, which limited single parents’ access to welfare payments to encourage labour market participation. 

Design/methodology/approach: The study analyses The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, which surveyed 9,145 women born in the 1970s in 2003, and 8,346 women born in the 1990s in 2019. 

Findings: Compared with other women of similar age, single mothers reported a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and lower levels of mental health, although the magnitude varied between age groups and cohorts. This difference disappeared after controlling for socio-demographic characteristics. Mental health of single mothers improved relative to that of other women between cohorts (1970s cohort surveyed in 2003, aged 25–30 versus 1990s cohort surveyed 2019, aged 24–30) and within the same 1970s cohort (surveyed 2003 and 2018), all else equal. Single mothers from the 1970s cohort aged 40–45 years and those in the 1990s cohort aged 24–30 years old were more qualified and held better jobs than the 1970s cohort at aged 25–30. Stress-related to money, ability to manage on available income and experiencing domestic violence were negatively associated with mental health across all cohorts and ages. Social support had a strong positive association with mental health.

Originality/value: The study suggests low welfare payment to encourage greater labour market participation is associated with financial distress linked to poor mental health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-82
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Public Mental Health
Issue number2
Early online date23 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2023


  • Financial distress
  • Single mothers
  • Welfare payments
  • Work activation


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