Mortality rates among single parents in Ontario higher among men — here’s why

A study suggests single dads in Ontario have a higher mortality rate compared to single moms and partnered dads.

According to the recent study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) published in Lancet Public Health on Wednesday, the mortality rate among single fathers, in particular, was three times higher compared to the mortality rates of single moms and of dads with partners.

The data suggests the mortality rate among single fathers was 5.8 per 100 people, while the rate among single mothers was 1.74 and 1.94 for partnered fathers.

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Dr. Maria Chiu, lead author and scientist at ICES says breaking it down, this means over a 10-year period (on average), almost six single dads would die in a group of 100, compared to two single moms and partnered dads in a group of 100 people.

“The three-fold higher mortality rate compared to single moms is striking,” she tells Global News. “The next step is we need to figure out what is causing this and look at specific causes of death. We need a bigger sample size.”

Why is this happening?

Chiu and her team looked at a sample of 871 single fathers, 4,590 single mothers, 16,341 partnered fathers and 18,688 partnered mothers in Ontario. Each group was followed over an average of 11 years. Chiu adds the median age for men was 46 while the median age for women was 41.

While the team wasn’t able to find the exact cause of death among single fathers (and the other groups), Chiu believes social isolation played a huge role.

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“Single fathers are less likely to have relationships and connections within and between social networks that would work to enhance their health, productivity and well-being,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.

Chiu notes other social factors like isolation and loneliness could be just as important as traditional risk factors like obesity and smoking when predicting premature death.

“Loneliness is considered one of the biggest health epidemics, not only among parents, but the elderly, homeless and veterans,” she continues. “Canada doesn’t have a national loneliness strategy and policy makers need to be thinking [about this].”

The study also found single fathers had more risk factors that were linked to premature death. This included not eating enough fruits and vegetables, monthly binge drinking, and higher cancer and cardiovascular diseases rates in general compared to single mothers and partnered fathers. 

And while previous studies have shown single dads are more likely to report low physical and mental health, the CBC notes, Chiu adds the single dads in this sample went to the doctors more often compared to partnered dads.

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“What likely is happening is a combination of factors of social isolation and loneliness, combined with the stresses of raising children.”

She adds as much as single fathers should be taking it upon themselves to reach out to social networks, dad groups or other means of making connections with like-minded people, health professionals should also be asking the right questions to single fathers, and giving them options for support.

The changing population

And according to the latest release of detailed census information from Statistics Canada, the number of children living with their dad grew much faster (up 34.5 per cent since 2001) than those living with just their mom (up 4.8 per cent).

Chiu says statistics like these are important because they can help communities and health professionals figure out the unique needs of single dads.

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“Seeing [mortality rates] is super scary but we need to raise awareness,” she says. “This is a largely under-studied population, and when we look at single moms and single dads, why is it that men are more disadvantaged?”

Taking care of yourself

According to social platform The Good Men Project, single fathers should focus on taking care of their well-being not only for themselves but their children.

“You will also be able to set a better example to your kids if you make attempts to eat right and exercise regularly,” the site notes.

— With files from Monique Scotti

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