Men who have poor mental health at 16 are less likely to become a parent and fatherhood is less likely to have a beneficial effect on men’s mental health than on women’s, according to a new study.
The study suggests that greater provision of parental leave and family support can make a difference to fathers’ mental health.
The study, published in Health Sociology Review, is based on longitudinal Swedish survey data covering a time span of 27 years.
The researchers, led by Sara Kalucza and her colleagues from Umea University in Sweden, set out to investigate whether mental health influences the probability of becoming a parent as well as if there is an effect on subsequent mental health after becoming a parent.
It found no effect for women, but for men, reporting poor mental health at age 16 decreased the likelihood of becoming a father by the age 43. The researchers also found a beneficial effect of parenthood on mental health for women, but not for men – although their mental health did not deteriorate as a result of having children.
The findings about greater beneficial mental health effects for women are supported by other studies in Sweden. However, studies in the US have shown a link between fatherhood and worsening mental health. The researchers suggest this could be because of more egalitarian parental leave policies and better childcare in Scandinavia.
They say: “The lack of negative relationships between parenthood and subsequent mental health in a Scandinavian context could indicate that being a parent has different connotations compared to the situation in the United States. Access to a welfare system that, in many ways, is designed to facilitate the combination of being a parent at the same time as being active in the labour market, with access, for instance, to paid parental leave and high-quality childcare, might dampen the potential negative effect that the everyday stress of being a parent could have on mothers’ and fathers’ mental health.”