Single Parents’ Capabilities for Social Support and its Effect on their Health
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Background: The health disadvantage single parents experience, compared to coupled parents, is often attributed to socioeconomic differences. This study looks into another explanation: differences in social support. Single parents report having difficulties maintaining social contact and its importance for one’s health is well established. This study explores the social support difference further by using the Capability Approach (CA). Differences in the value placed on a social network and differences in the perceived opportunities for a social network between single and coupled parents, might explain differences in social support. Methods: A quantitative analysis of secondary data was executed. The data came from the ERC project CAPABLE and was collected via an online survey in four countries. The data (n = 2138) were analyzed using the PROCESS-tool. Results: Single parents experience significantly worse health than coupled parents. However, no differences were found in social support. Therefore, it could not explain the health inequality. Value of a social network and perceived opportunities to maintain were significantly associated with social support. Single parents did not value a social network differently but do perceive fewer opportunities for one than coupled parents. Perceived opportunity for a social network was found to be a mediator between single parenthood and health. Conclusions: Although social support cannot explain the health disadvantage single parents experience, perceived opportunities for a social network can. This should be considered in future well-being interventions for single parents. This study used a broad conceptualization of single parents and used only the quantity of the support network as a measure of social support. This limits the results. The study showed the CA is a useful way of thinking about social support and other possible subjects.