Young mothers depressed due to recession

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Income loss in the recession led to an increase in depression among young mothers, research has found.

The study used panel data from three waves of the Growing Up in Ireland study to chart how mean income fell across different socio-economic groups and found that young mothers who were also in owner-occupier properties were most adversely affected.

The research, entitled ‘The Great Recession and Mental Health: the Effect of Income Loss on the Psychological Health of Young Mothers’ was written by Fiona Kiernan of the School of Economics and the Geary Institute at University College Dublin.

It found that income loss is associated with an increase in depression, but not in parental stress, and that this effect of income loss is seen for those who are homeowners, with subjective reports of being in mortgage or rent arrears also associated with an increase in depression score.

Analysis of the data showed that mean income decreased over the three waves of the Growing Up In Ireland study for the population as a whole, from €22,336 in wave 1 to €19,226 in wave 2 and €17,933 in wave 3.

“In all cases, the percentage of those reporting each effect of the recession was higher in wave 3 than in wave 2, with particularly large increase in rates for those reporting decreased social welfare, and mortgage or rent arrears,” it said.

“The results indicate that there is evidence of a statistically significant relationship between changes in income during the recession, and changes in depression score.”

The study acknowledged that any fall in income could be due to poorer depression scores but said it seemed unlikely that lower income was a result of worse mental health, in part because the impact of the recession was felt by all social classes in Ireland, and recessionary effects were due not only to labour market loss, but also because of changes in tax and social welfare policy.

It also referred to the pressures on those who had secured a mortgage during the boom years and then found their incomes slashed during the crash.

“Since 340,000 mortgages [out of a total of 800,000] were approved over the period of 2004-2006, many of these new mortgages were held by younger households, with mortgage repayments consuming a large portion of household income,” it said.

“The burden of credit constraints, high mortgage repayments, and falls in disposable income, were not merely confined to those who experienced labour market losses.”

The study uses data from thousands of people across all three waves.

Ms Geary concluded: “I find that changes in disposable income during the recession may explain some changes in health outcomes, particularly depression.

“This was seen for an increase in overall depression score and movement across a threshold consistent with a likely diagnosis of depression. I find that income loss affected the depression scores of those who were private owners, but not the parental stress scores of those who were private owners or renters. This is consistent with the idea that the threat of losing a home is associated with shame and loss.

“If one assumed that the effect of the recession can be explained solely by labour market loss, there is a potential that the true effects might be underestimated.”

Read the full report at ucd.ie/geary/static/publications/workingpapers/gearywp201821.pdf

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