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For an Asthmatic Kid, There’s a Price to Pay for Living in a Single-Mother Household

Decades of research has convinced just about everyone that a child with a single parent is, on average, more likely to have worse outcomes in life than a child with two parents. These outcomes are seen in a variety of channels: education, income, health, and crime.

But what are the mechanisms that actually produce a worse outcome? Exactly how, in other words, does having one parent create a disadvantage?

A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by two medical doctors, Alex Y. Chen and José Escarce, attacks this question in an interesting, important way and with a persuasive empirical approach: they measure the asthma care received by children in single- and two-parent families. (And yes, they control for “sociodemographic characteristics, parental experience in child-rearing,” and other factors.) Using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the National Survey of Children’s Health, here’s what they found:

Asthmatic children in single-mother families had fewer office visits for asthma and filled fewer prescriptions for controller medications than children with two parents. In addition, children living in families with three or more other children had fewer office visits and filled fewer prescriptions for reliever and controller medications than children living with no other children. Children from single-mother families had more health difficulties from asthma than children with two parents, and children living with two or more other children were more likely to have an asthma attack in the past 12 months than children living with no other children.

Of all the scarcities faced by a single mother, it seems that time to take her kids to the doctor, then to get a prescription filled, is a significant one. This is neither counterintuitive nor surprising — but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important finding. With such a widespread and chronic condition as childhood asthma, and such clear-cut evidence of how certain kids aren’t getting good treatment, Chen and Escarce have given marching orders to anyone who’s got the desire to address the healthcare of kids in single-parent families.

In related news, the New England Journal of Medicine has reported that the presence of particular bacteria in infants is a strong predictor for asthma.