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Mental Health

Low-income Fathers are Depressed, Cause Distress in Families

— July 28, 2022

Fathers have a significant impact on the well-being of a low-income family unit.

A recent study published in the journal Family Relations suggests that a low-income father’s economic instability has a significant impact on his family. Not only is the burden of financial instability and trying to make ends meet stressful for the whole family unit, but fathers are likely to become severely depressed, causing volatility in 1 in 5 spousal relationships, the study shows.

In 2020, federal poverty guidelines indicated a threshold of $26,200 for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Moreover, in low-income families “approximately 44% of the children were young children below the ages of 3 years,” the researchers wrote.  This means that a large number of low-income parents have trouble meeting the basic needs of their offspring.

Data from 2,800 families involved in the Building Strong Families projects was analyzed for the study. The venture followed a nationwide group of low socioeconomic families with young children in the three-year span between 2005 and 2008. They reported an average monthly income of just $2,363.

Low-income Fathers are Depressed, Cause Distress in Families
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

Not only is is difficult for these families to meet the basic needs of their children, including food and housing, It is difficult to pay for clothing, education and healthcare. The constant strain this puts on the family leaves parents battling mental health and relational hardships.

It is important to note that previous studies did not home in specifically on the father’s experience with finances and how this might impact his family. Rather, these studies considered the family unit as a whole, and it was determined that both mothers and fathers with trouble making ends meet had more depressive symptoms than those who are economically well-off.

In the current study, the team found that for “21 percent of the fathers, material hardship contributed to depressive symptoms, which then led to destructive conflict called verbal aggression — such as yelling and putdowns — that can damage relationships.” By comparison, mothers did not demonstrate the same level of aggression.

“Traditional gender roles could be to blame,” said Joyce Y. Lee, an assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University who led the study. “When fathers feel they aren’t economically providing to alleviate material hardship in their families, that can lead to depression and more conflict with their spouse.” Men tend to be wired with a desire to provide for their families. Whether this be the cause societal pressures or biology, they tend to have a strong drive to provide and to protect.

There are some solutions to these issues, but they are limiting, according to the team. “Fathers’ stress-depression-conflict cycle could be alleviated with employment training and efforts to connect them to community programs, among other things,” the researchers write. “But programs that don’t take hardship into consideration could overlook families whose incomes exceed eligibility thresholds, yet still face economic instability at home.”

Lee explained, “If basic needs for housing, food, utilities and medical care aren’t sufficiently met, then interventions to help parents manage their conflict is only going to help so much.”


Study: Dads’ money woes can set stage for family conflict

Examining mechanisms linking economic insecurity to interparental conflict among couples with low income

In low-income families, fathers’ depression hurts couples

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