Children’s mental health declines as a result of mothers forced to find job

The impact this can have on their children and adolescents is often overlooked.


Welfare-to-work initiatives may boost lone mothers’ employment, according to studies. However, it’s uncertain how they affect the socioemotional growth of children and adolescents. To obtain benefits, lone mothers eligible for unconditional Income Support (IS) must actively seek paid employment, per the lone parent obligation (LPO) reform.

A new study examined the impact of work search requirements for lone parents on child and adolescent socioemotional development. The study- by the King’s College London– found that the reform increased lone mothers’ employment and income. However, these potential positive effects failed to translate into improvements in mental health for adolescent children. The study showed that the reform did not reduce the risk of family poverty and contributed to mothers’ psychological distress.

For the study, scientists used data from the Millennium Cohort Study to examine how the LPO reform affected the socioemotional development of children and adolescents. They analyzed data for more than 11,000 children and adolescents from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. They examined changes in mental health for adolescent children from lone-mother families compared to mental health changes for children from two-parent families.

They discovered that while the reform increased lone mothers’ employment and income, these possible beneficial effects did not improve their adolescent children’s mental health. According to the research, the reform increased mothers’ psychological distress while doing nothing to lower the risk of family poverty.

Additionally, mothers complained that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids, and many of them gave themselves poor health ratings.

Concerned scientists are urging government officials to evaluate welfare-to-work programs’ overall effects, including any potential cross-generational effects on children’s and adolescents’ socioemotional development.

Dr. Liming Li, co-lead on the study, said“Previous studies have focused on the impact of mothers’ employment on very young children. Our unique study examines how a policy reform that incentivizes mothers’ employment impacts adolescents.”

“Although we found the negative effects on adolescents to be relatively small, our study offers a mixed picture of the benefits of welfare-to-work programs on families and questions the assumption that these schemes improve the developmental outcomes of young children and adolescents.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Liming Li, Mauricio Avendano. Lone parents’ employment policy and adolescents’ socioemotional development: Quasi-experimental evidence from a UK reform. Social Science & Medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.115754
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