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Household composition describes the characteristics of a household and the relationships between members (1). Families can be diverse in their composition and can include varying numbers of adopted/fostered children, siblings, parents, stepparents, and/or stepsiblings. Some people may have pets as part of their household. Household composition can be impacted through changes such as divorce or loss.



Risk and/or Protective Factor

Household composition can be a protective factor for mental health. Two-parent, mother-father families have been associated with a lower risk for depression in young adult children than growing up in stepparent or single-parent families (2). On the other hand, single parent (previously married) or step-parent families have been linked to increased risk of mental disorders in children and young people (3). Additionally, living with parents has been associated with health behaviours which are protective of mental health, such as less smoking or heavy drinking (4).


Changes in household composition, such as through parental separation, are risk factors for mental health. Separation and divorce have been linked to increased mental health difficulties for the individuals separating as well as an increased risk for disruptive behaviour and depression in children (5,6).


Loss of household members is a risk factor for mental health. Loss of a child has been linked to prolonged grief and depressive symptoms in parents  (7). Death of a parent has been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety in children and young people (8,9). Similarly, loss of a partner has been linked to increased risk of mental health disorders (6).



1.        Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses Revision 3 [Internet]. New York: Department of Economic and Social Affairs; 2017 [cited 2021 Jan 14]. Available from:

2.        Barrett AE, Turner RJ. Family structure and mental health: The mediating effects of socioeconomic status, family process, and social stress. J Health Soc Behav [Internet]. 2005 Jun 22 [cited 2021 Feb 1];46(2):156–69. Available from:

3.        Campion J. Public mental health: Evidence, practice and commissioning. 2019.

4.        Takeda Y, Kawachi I, Yamagata Z, Hashimoto S, Matsumura Y, Oguri S, et al. Multigenerational family structure in Japanese society: Impacts on stress and health behaviors among women and men. Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jul 1;59(1):69–81.

5.        Lee D, McLanahan S. Family Structure Transitions and Child Development: Instability, Selection, and Population Heterogeneity. Am Sociol Rev [Internet]. 2015 Aug 4 [cited 2021 Jan 29];80(4):738–63. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4902167/?report=abstract

6.        Scott KM, Wells JE, Angermeyer M, Brugha TS, Bromet E, Demyttenaere K, et al. Gender and the relationship between marital status and first onset of mood, anxiety and substance use disorders. Psychol Med [Internet]. 2010 Sep [cited 2021 Feb 8];40(9):1495–505. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC2891411/?report=abstract

7.        McCarthy MC, Clarke NE, Ting CL, Conroy R, Anderson VA, Heath JA. Prevalence and predictors of parental grief and depression after the death of a child from cancer. J Palliat Med [Internet]. 2010 Nov 1 [cited 2021 Feb 1];13(11):1321–6. Available from:

8.        Pham S, Porta G, Biernesser C, Payne MW, Iyengar S, Melhem N, et al. The burden of bereavement: Early-onset depression and impairment in youths bereaved by sudden parental death in a 7-year prospective study. Am J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2018 Sep 1 [cited 2021 Jan 22];175(9):887–96. Available from:

9.        Tyrka AR, Wier L, Price LH, Ross NS, Carpenter LL. Childhood parental loss and adult psychopathology: effects of loss characteristics and contextual factors. he Int J Psychiatry Med. 2008;38(3):329–44.