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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2010 Jan;45(1):77-87. doi: 10.1007/s00127-009-0044-2. Epub 2009 Apr 15.

The mental health benefits of work: do they apply to poor single mothers?

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  • 1Centre for Applied Research on Mental Health and Addiction, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Blusson Hall #10518, 8888 University Dr., Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada.



The relationship between employment and improved mental health is well documented. However, no research has examined whether this relationship applies to poor single mothers. Given recent changes in the labor market where poor women are disproportionately employed in unstable jobs, the competing demands of work and childcare may operate to prevent poor women from reaping the mental health benefits of employment. Understanding these connections has become more salient not just for mental health epidemiology but for policies targeting employment and poverty.


This study draws on four waves of data from the Welfare Client Longitudinal Study. Generalized estimating equations are utilized to assess the role of current employment and employment continuity on the depression status of poor single mothers over time. Through a comparison of results drawn from a dichotomous categorization of current employment with results drawn from measures of employment continuity, this study is also able to assess whether it is employment per se or the characteristics of employment that matter.


Overall, the results from this study suggest that current employment improves the mental health of many poor single mothers. However, the circumstances most likely to improve their mental health are full-time or stable, longer term employment.


The results from this study are of concern given that the lack of employment continuity is a growing trend in the U.S. labor market and poor women are disproportionately employed in these types of unstable jobs. These findings, thus, have wide-reaching implications for welfare policy as they provide an important and timely perspective in our understanding of the impact of the changing face of employment on poor women.

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