In low-income families, fatherly depression can be devastating

Summary: Fathers who experience economic hardship with depressive symptoms have higher levels of emotional conflict and verbal aggression than their mothers.

A source: Ohio State University

A new study shows that when fathers in economically disadvantaged families show signs of depression, the effects can be particularly devastating.

Researchers have found that fathers’ depressive symptoms, but not those of their mothers, are linked to destructive conflict between parents in the home, such as verbal aggression.

This is because fathers may be more stressed than mothers because they cannot alleviate the financial hardships of their families, says Joyce Yu. Lee is the lead author of the study and an assistant in social work at Ohio State University.

“The role of caregiver has long been seen as a defining feature of traditional fatherhood,” said Lee, who is working on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan.

“If a father feels that he is not able to provide for his family financially, this can lead to depression and conflict with his wife.”

The study was recently published in a journal Family relations.

The results are particularly important because much of the research on the role of poverty in family relationships is focused on mothers, Lee said.

“We didn’t really know the role that fathers’ mental health played in key family outcomes for families living in poverty, ”he said.

“These results show how important it is to understand what is happening to fathers.”

The data from the Strong Families project included 2,794 racially diverse patterns of mothers and fathers in low-income contexts. Data were collected in eight cities in the United States between 2002 and 2013.

One of the key points of this study was that it included material difficulties as a measure of poverty, which reflected not only family income but also the struggle of families for daily life.

In addition to income poverty, it is important to understand the financial hardship, as it affects low-income families, including those who are not considered poor under federal poverty guidelines, Lee said.

Researchers measured participants’ financial difficulties by asking them how difficult it was to pay for utilities and medical care, and whether they had difficulty paying rent or mortgages or were evicted because they did not pay.

The results show that income poverty is not associated with depressive symptoms of mothers or fathers, but materials related to the difficulties are associated with depressive symptoms of both mothers and fathers.

“Material hardship seems to make the connection between economic struggle and poor parental mental health better than family income,” Lee said.

Participants reported that the more they struggled to pay their bills, the more likely it was that both mothers and fathers would experience depression, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating.

Thus, the level of maternal depressive symptoms was not related to the devastating conflict between parents. However, the symptoms of depression in fathers are associated with more harmful conflicts.

Verbal aggression involves blaming your partner for wrongdoing and rejecting your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and desires.

“We have found that material hardship itself does not directly lead to interpersonal conflict,” Lee said. “However, the financial difficulties were indirectly related to the high level of destructive conflict through the depressive symptoms of the fathers.”

The results show that more attention should be paid to the mental health of fathers in economically disadvantaged families, he said.

But more important, it can be a solution to the problems that lead to parental depression and conflict.

Researchers have found that fathers’ depressive symptoms, but not those of their mothers, are linked to destructive conflict between parents in the home, such as verbal aggression. Image in public domain

“If the basic needs of housing, food, utilities and health care are not adequately met, interventions to help parents resolve conflicts will be a big help,” Lee said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate problems for many low-income families. We need to prioritize connecting families with additional resources, ”he said.

Some ways to help families may include housing and utilities, employment services, Medicaid expansion, tax credits for children, and other direct remittances.

See also

This book shows an elderly woman reading

“It will help many American families cope with the financial hardships of a very difficult time.”

Co-authors of the study, all from the University of Michigan, Shona J. Lee and Andrew S. Grogan-Keylor, School of Social Work, and Brenda L. Wolling Psychology Department staff.

Funding: The study was supported by the Department of Children and Families and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

Depression research news about it

Author: Jeff Grabmeier
A source: Ohio State University
The connection: Jeff Grabmeier – Ohio State University
Photo: Image in public domain

Original study: Open access.
“Study of mechanisms linking economic security to parental conflict between low-income spouses” Joyce Y. Lee et al. Family relations


To study the mechanisms that link economic security to parental conflict between low-income spouses

The goal

The current study used a family stress model to examine the mechanisms by which economic security contributes to the mental health of mothers and fathers and the functioning of marital relationships.


Although low-income households are the focus of poverty research, financial hardship — daily living difficulties, including difficulty paying for housing, utilities, food, or health care — is common among American families.


The participants were representatives of the Strong Families project. Couples were racially diverse (43.52% black; 28.88% Latin; 17.29% white; 10.31% other) and low-income (Do not = 2794). Economic security includes income poverty and financial hardship. Bayesian mediation analysis was used using the previous evidence base of the family stress model.


Material hardship, but not income poverty, predicted high levels of depressive symptoms in both mother and father. Only paternal depressive symptoms are associated with a high level of parental destructive conflict (i.e., spouses use moderate verbal aggression that can damage a partner’s relationship). The analysis of mediation confirmed that the financial hardship was primarily due to the depressive symptoms associated with the parent’s destructive parental conflict.


The economic stress of meeting the daily material needs of the family is the basis of the mental health problems of parents, which lead to destructive conflict between parents, especially through the symptoms of paternal depression.


Family strengthening programs address material challenges (such as comprehensive needs assessment, community-based resource access, and parental employment training) as part of parents ‘efforts to address parental mental health and spouses’ destructive behavior. it’s possible.

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