A new study has found that new mothers who live in a multi-generational household suffer higher rates of depression during the baby’s first year of life.
The Duke University study found that this was true for both married and single mothers. But the study also found that new mothers who live with their baby’s father but aren’t married to him have lower rates of depression when one or more of the grandparents also live in the house.
According to the researchers, the pattern holds true for rich, poor, and middle-class women.
The findings varied by race, however, with Latina single mothers faring especially poorly in multi-generational households, the study found. Latina single moms were six times more likely to experience depression if they lived in multi-generational households in their child’s first year than if they did not, researchers reported.
The differences may reflect differing expectations, according to lead author Joy Piontak, Ph.D., a research analyst with the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy.
“For instance, married couples commonly expect to maintain a separate household, while couples who live together don’t have those same expectations,” she said.
“There’s a strong expectation that married couples will be economically self-sufficient,” Piontak said. “Those are strong cultural values, so there could be a stronger sense of failure among married couples if they have to live with their parents.”
Piontak cautioned that she can’t say for certain what causal relationship is at play. Living with grandparents may worsen depression for single and married mothers. Or, depressed single and married moms may be less likely to move out from a multi-generational household, she explained.
She added that no information was available regarding the quality of the relationships within the households. This data could shed light on how household composition may affect mental health, Piontak said.
The study, which drew upon a nationally representative sample of nearly 3,000 married, single and cohabiting mothers, is unusual in its focus on multi-generational families, according to the researcher. While single mothers have captured a great deal of attention, three-generation households have not been studied much, she said.
Yet such households are quite common, she noted. Some 7.8 million children, or 11 percent of all U.S. children, live in multi-generational households.
These living arrangements are even more common among certain subgroups. For instance, nearly half of all children born to single mothers spend some time living with their grandparents.
“We often talk about families in terms of mothers, fathers and children,” Piontak said. “Or we talk about the marital status of the mothers. Families are often a lot more complex than we imagine them to be, though. And that complexity can affect mothers’ well-being.”
Source: Duke University