Original article| Volume 22, ISSUE 6, e553-e561, November 2012

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Depression by Partner Status and the Presence of Children in the Household

Published:September 10, 2012DOI:



      Single motherhood is a well-established risk factor for depression in women. The goal of this study is to analyze the relationships among partner status, having children, and depression among women of White, Black, and Hispanic race/ethnicity.


      Stratified analyses were conducted on 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008 cross-sectional survey data from 10,520 White women, 7,655 Black women, and 7,343 Hispanic women aged at least 18 years and residing in New York City. Depression was evaluated using Kessler's K6 scale. Race/ethnicity-specific logistic regression analysis assessed the association between partner status and depression among women with and without children.


      Partner status was significantly associated with depression among White (p < .0001) and Hispanic (p = .0001) women, but not among Black women (p = .82), after adjusting for age, nativity, employment, education, poverty level, general health, and health insurance. Among White women, the conditional odds of depression were elevated for single relative to partnered women both with (odds ratio [OR], 2.10; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.57–2.81; p < .0001) and without (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.06–1.56; p = .01) children, but the size of the effect was significantly larger for those with children than for those without children (p = .006). Among Hispanic women, the conditional odds of depression were elevated for single relative to partnered women with children (OR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.29–1.95; p < .0001), but not for single versus partnered women without children (OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 0.82–1.46; p = .54). Among Black women, there was no evidence of elevated depression in single relative to partnered women, either overall or conditional on the presence of children (with children: OR, 1.21 [95% CI, 0.95–1.54; p = .13]; without children: OR, 0.75 [95% CI, 0.56–1.02; p = .06]).


      Past focus on single mothers as a high-risk group has oversimplified the relationship between partner status and depression, obscuring important distinctions between women of different racial backgrounds.
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      Aviva G. Schwarz, MPH, is a consultant with the Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in maternal–child health.


      Katharine H. McVeigh, PhD, MPH, is Director of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Longitudinal Study of Early Development. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in mental health, substance abuse, child development, and maternal–child health.


      Christina Hoven, DrPH, MPH, is a Professor of Clinical Epidemiology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and an internationally recognized expert in child and adolescent mental health.


      Bonnie D. Kerker, PhD, is the Senior Epidemiology and Policy Advisor, Division of Epidemiology at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Mental health and maternal–child health are among her many research interests.