As the new Reuters article Children of single dads get less health care (8/8/07) explains, a new study by Health Services Research claims that single fathers are less likely to take their children to the doctor for routine visits than single mothers, and are also less likely to have health insurance. Despite the alleged disadvantages single mothers face, we’re told that “nonetheless, children of single mothers were most likely to make well-child visits to the doctor for preventive care.”  

I think that single fathers should be more careful to make these “well-child” visits and have health insurance, but there are many reasons besides implied male irresponsibility which could account for these findings. These include:

1) As the article itself states, families headed by single women are “far more likely to have government health insurance” than single-father families.

2) Most single mothers receive either child support, alimony, government assistance, financial support from a new man in the mom’s life, or some combination of all four–none of which are considered when we judge these mothers’ socioeconomic status. By contrast, single fathers rarely receive child support, and alimony and government assistance are even rarer. (Despite the “deadbeat dad” stereotype, noncustodial mothers are 20% more likely to default on their child support obligations than noncustodial fathers. This is despite the fact that noncustodial mothers are less likely to be required to pay child support, and those with support obligations are asked to pay a lower percentage of their income in child support than noncustodial fathers).

3) Custodial fathers are three and a half times as likely to work long work weeks as custodial mothers. Single fathers as a rule work more hours and at jobs which entail more responsibility and less flexibility than those held by single mothers. Single mothers’ lives certainly aren’t easy, but they are more likely to work 40 hour weeks (no overtime), or part time, or not at all, giving them far more opportunity to go to the doctor. Men, in general, neglect their own health for this reason. For example, when I was a kid my father would raise heaven and earth to avoid “grinding up the morning in the doctor’s office.” He was the family breadwinner, he had responsibilities, and he didn’t have a lot of free time during the day. I think my father’s attitude is fairly typical of breadwinner dads, and all single fathers are breadwinner dads–they certainly aren’t being supported by their exes or the government.

4) Single moms sometimes have health insurance for their families because dad is paying for it. By contrast, single dads rarely have health insurance because a noncustodial mom is paying for it.

5) Single fathers may be raising their kids, but still often have financial obligations to their exes, none of which are considered when we judge these fathers’ socioeconomic status. Some pay alimony, and some are even paying child support to their children’s mothers. It is not uncommon for a single father to have the following “deal” with his ex–the kids live with dad, but mom retains formal custody. Dad pays mom child support to keep her content with the arrangement–if he doesn’t, she’ll take custody of the kids back. Dad figures he can either pay to be with his kids or pay and not be with them, so he chooses to be with them.

6) Single fathers don’t usually get custody easily–many of them have had to fight long, expensive legal battles to get custody. Many have huge expenses left over from their divorces, including their own attorneys’ fees and sometimes their exes’ attorneys fees, for which fathers are often made responsible.

7) The study “uses data from a national survey of U.S. families” and found that “fewer children in single-father homes made routine, ‘well-child’ doctor visits compared with children in either two-parent or single-mother homes.” It’s possible that part of the discrepancy is that the dads are less likely to remember, or note, these visits, or that they had a relative (such as grandma) take the kids for them.

The Reuters article is below.

Children of single dads get less health care

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Single fathers are less likely than other parents to take their children for routine doctor visits, and more likely to go without health insurance, a new study suggests.
Using data from a national survey of U.S. families, researchers found that fewer children in single-father homes made routine, “well-child” doctor visits compared with children in either two-parent or single-mother homes.
The children with single fathers were also 20 percent more likely to go a full year without health insurance, according to findings published online by the journal Health Services Research.
In contrast, children of single mothers had “comparable if not better access to care” than children living with both parents, the study authors report.
“The bottom line is that children in single-father families may be more vulnerable to health problems because they’re not getting well-child visits or they don’t have easy access to care when they need it,” study co-author Dr. Kathleen Ziol-Guest said in a statement.
Men are generally less likely than women to make routine doctor visits for their own health, and this may partially explain the findings, according to Ziol-Guest, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
“We should be looking for ways to make single fathers more aware of the importance of health care coverage and routine doctor visits,” she said.
The findings are based on a national survey that included parents of 62,193 children younger than 18. Just 3 percent of the children lived in a single-father home, while 22 percent lived in a single-mother home.
Families headed by single women were far more likely to live under the poverty line and have government health insurance than either single-father or two-parent families.
Nonetheless, children of single mothers were most likely to make well-child visits to the doctor for preventive care.
Children of single fathers had the lowest rate of well-child visits in the past year — 57 percent — compared to 69 percent and 67 percent of children in single-mother and two-parent homes, respectively.
“Like single mothers, most single fathers are undoubtedly doing the best they can under difficult circumstances,” Ziol-Guest said. “But they may need more education and support when it comes to getting proper health care for their children.”, Glenn Sacks

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