Significant life experiences and depression among single and married mothers

Lorraine Davies, William R. Avison, Donna D McAlpine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


We examine the relationships among early family adversities, depression, and family status using a sample of single and married mothers. Regardless of whether they are never-married or separated or divorced, single mothers report higher lifetime and 1-year prevalence rates of depression than married mothers. By examining the connections among adversities, depressive episodes, and family status, we demonstrate the importance of early adversities in childhood and adolescence in explaining these differences in depression according to marital status. Specifically, higher rates of depression among single mothers are due, in part, to a greater likelihood of early childhood adversities, which then increase the risk for early onset of depression. Interestingly, women whose childhoods have been relatively free of adversities are more likely either to report no depressive episodes or to have a later onset of depression. These latter trajectories are more common among married than among single mothers. We discuss the relevance of these findings for understanding the interplay of stressful experience, depressive illness, and family status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-308
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood adversities
  • Depression
  • Family structure
  • Single mothers
  • Stress


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