New research shows a link between a mother’s poor health and her children’s well-being. This link did not show up for fathers. However, if the father is living in the home, the association between the mother’s poor health and the problems that children experience is smaller, suggesting that the father’s presence may help alleviate pressure on the children.

Researchers, Jessica Halliday Hardie at Hunter College, City University of New York, and Kristin Turney at the University of California, Irvine, examined data from 3,273 families taken from the U.S. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

They examined the association between parents’ poor health when children were aged 5 and 9 and children’s wellbeing at age 9.

Mothers’ poor health, particularly if chronic or occurring later in the child’s life, is linked to more sadness/introspection on the part of the child, more disruptive behaviour, lower verbal ability, and worse overall health. But if the father is present in the home, then the link with sadness/introspection disappears.

The researchers also looked to see whether grandparents living in the house had the same influence as fathers, but they did not.

The researchers conclude: “These findings support calls to consider health as a family affair. Policies and practices designed to address health at the family level are key to supporting all family members.”

Header photo: Shaun Sullivan. Creative Commons.


Hardie JH & Turney K (2016), The intergenerational consequences of parental health limitations, Journal of Marriage & Family