Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Epidemiology and Biostatistics


Dr. William Avison


Children live in increasingly varied family structures and there is some suggestion that children who live with single mothers have poorer health outcomes than children who live with two-parents. The examination of the pathways that link family structure to children’s physical health is important because it will help increase our understanding of why some children are healthier than others. The purpose of this dissertation is to: 1) determine if there are differences in health status between children raised in female-headed single-parent families and children in two-parent families; 2) gain an understanding of why these differences may exist; and, 3) assess the impact of family structure over time and examine transitions in family structure on children’s health.

The data for these studies originated from two data sources. The first study examined data from a survey conducted in the medium-sized community of London, Ontario. This data source was rich in measures that allowed us to investigate factors that mediated the relationship between family structure and children’s physical health. Multiple regression was utilized to test whether maternal stressors and/or social supports affected the number of activity limiting days children had in single and two-parent families. The second study examined data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) to study how transitions in family structure influenced children’s health over an eight-year period of time. Growth curve modeling was used to examine how children’s health changed over time and whether transitions in family structure impacted on how mothers evaluated their child’s physical health.

Family structure was associated with a greater number of activity limiting days and decreased odds of mother’s reporting that their child’s general health was very good or excellent. In addition, the longitudinal analyses revealed that on average, children spending any time in a single-parent family had lower odds of being reported in excellent or very good health. These relationships were partially explained by factors exacerbated in single-parent families such as increased poverty, maternal distress and lower social support.