Journal Article

Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: the role of partnership and parenthood status for growing disparities between types of families

Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 63:4, 594–609 (2022)
Open Access


This study investigates mental health inequalities by family type and gender during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. Using data from the German Family Panel, we compared three dimensions of mental health (i.e., self-reported stress, exhaustion, and loneliness) one year before the pandemic and in spring 2020. First, two-parent families emerged as a vulnerable group, as the levels of stress and exhaustion they reported during the pandemic converged with those experienced by single parents. Second, a gender gap emerged during this global health crisis, with women, and particularly mothers, reporting significantly worse mental health compared to men in the same family type. Our findings underline the substantive value of studying mental health inequality from a multidimensional perspective and over time. Based on these findings, we urge policy makers to consider more seriously the disproportionate burdens that families, and women in particular, have been carrying due to the pandemic both directly and indirectly.

Keywords: Germany, family, mental health
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.