Is there an association between parental separation and suicidality? The claim that there is such an association is sometimes made out to be contentious. It should not be contentious. In The Empathy Gap section 188.8.131.52 I reviewed more than two dozen academic studies addressing the issue (using data from Anglophone or European countries, none of which related to Great Britain). This provided clear evidence that parental separation does indeed increase suicidality for both sexes, but substantially more so for men than women. That there are no such studies in Great Britain is quite an indictment of our academy. However, there is another way of getting at the issue in GB.
On 4th January 2015 the Sunday Express published this article “Family separation sends parents to an early grave”. The article is based on the results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiry addressed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It asked for the number of deaths of parents registered with the Child Support Agency (CSA), as it then was.
The data they obtained show that non-resident parents are (in their words) “almost three times” more likely to die early. The actual figures showed that since June 2003, 8,515 non-resident parents registered with the CSA had died compared to 3,090 resident parents registered with the CSA. (Unfortunately the end date of the period to which these figures apply was not stated). However, the 2015 FOI data indicate a non-resident to resident parent death ratio of 2.76.
According to the information released under this 2015 FOI, 94.8% of CSA cases involved a male non-resident parent.
John Hemming, who was MP for Birmingham Yardley at the time, and chairman of Justice for Families, was quoted as saying, “These figures are very concerning and warrant further investigation. I will be writing to the Minister to request that they are looked into”.
No doubt you will recall the political furore which followed. No? No – there wasn’t any. Perhaps John Hemming being replaced as MP by Jess Phillips a few months later did not help.
I return to this issue because in February this year (2020) the response to a further FOI asking the same question was obtained. It provides the numbers of recorded deaths of individuals associated with Child Maintenance Service (CMS) cases in Great Britain, from the beginning of January 2017 to the end of September 2019 (hence 33 months).
There were 3,270 deaths of paying parents and 1,350 deaths of receiving parents. Disaggregation by sex is not provided, but with around 95% of “paying” parents being fathers I shall use the working approximation that all the non-resident parents are fathers. (The failure to provide sex-specific data means we cannot determine if non-resident mothers are also subject to increased mortality). The 2020 FOI data indicate a non-resident to resident parent death ratio of 2.42, confirming that the far greater death rate of non-resident parents obtained previously was not an aberration but is reproducible.
However, we must be mindful that men’s death rate exceeds women’s in the general population, so we cannot immediately draw a conclusion about the effect of non-resident parental status. So we must account for the expected proportion of excess male deaths.
Assuming that the bulk of CMS payees are in the age range 25 to 55, mortality data and population statistics allows the proportions of men and women in this age range who die per year in the general population of GB to be found, namely 0.191% of men and 0.116% of women. So the death rate of men exceeds that of women in the general population by 65% or a factor of 1.65.
Hence, the factor of 2.42 by which the number of deaths of non-resident parents exceeds that of resident parents is in excess of the expected sex mortality ratio by 47% (i.e., (2.42 – 1.65)/1.65).
However, this is an under-estimate of the effect of non-resident status because the number of non-resident parents registered with the CMS is rather less than the number of resident parents who are registered.
The 2020 FOI gives the number of non-resident and resident parents registered with CMS at some time during the 33 month period in question, namely 716,990 and 757,000 respectively. However it would be an error to interpret the number of deaths (i.e., 3,270 and 1,350 respectively) as relating to this number of people over the 33 month period. This is because parents register and are de-registered with CMS continually, so the figures 716,990 and 757,000 are far bigger than the numbers of registrants at any one time. In contrast, the death data will relate only to people who die whilst registered. (The CMS will be unaware of the deaths of those not yet registered, or no longer registered). However, what the figures 716,990 and 757,000 tell us is that there are 1.056 resident parents registered for every non-resident parent.
The number of paying parents registered with CMS in GB has increased substantially over the period in question, from 270,000 in the first quarter of 2017 to 428,000 in the third quarter of 2019, the average over the period being 362,245.
Using the above sex ratio we may estimate the average number of registered receiving parents to have been 382,530 over the period in question.
By multiplying this average number of registrants by the annual mortality in the general population, and also by 2.75 years (i.e., 33 months) we can estimate the number of deaths expected (Table 1) and compare this with the actual number of deaths provided by the FOI.
|Who||Registrants||Expected deaths||Actual deaths|
Hence, the number of resident mothers’ deaths is comparable with expectation (elevated by 10%, which is of debatable statistical significance).
In contrast, the number of non-resident fathers’ deaths is 72% in excess of expectation, there being 1,367 excess deaths of fathers over the period (500 per year in round numbers).
This compares with about 2,500 annual suicides of men in the age range 25 to 55 in GB, whereas the number of suicides of women in the same age range in GB is roughly 750. So it seems feasible that the excess deaths identified (i.e., 500 pa) might be largely, or entirely, suicides. However, this is unproved.
The strict conclusion is an association between being registered with CMS as a non-resident parent and excess mortality. Possible explanations other than suicide include,
- Associations between CMS registrants and demographics who have an elevated mortality rate;
- The indirect medical impact of reduced financial circumstances of non-resident parents;
- Associations between non-resident parents and substance abuse or other lifestyle factors which elevate deaths by disease, addiction or intoxication. (Some of these one might term “indirect slow suicide”, but they will not appear in the suicide statistics);
- Increased mortality from the medical effects of the severe social isolation and impaired mental well-being which is known to affect non-resident parents.
Finally, it is only reasonable to interpret the excess deaths of non-resident parents as associated with being non-resident, as opposed from being associated with their registration with the CMS. It is important to recall, therefore, that the actual number of non-resident parents with children of dependant age will far exceed the figure of 362,245 given above for the number registered with CMS at any one time.
There are now around 55,000 private law Children Act cases in the family courts of England and Wales annually. But only 38% of separating couples with children take their case to court (see The Empathy Gap section 11.6). Hence, there are about 145,000 separating couples with dependent children annually in England and Wales, and hence perhaps around 160,000 in the whole of GB. Some couples will generate more than one court case, so there might be some double-accounting in that estimate.
Data for service users of the charity FNF BPM Cymru indicates the average age of children when parents separate is 6.7 years. Consequently, the status of a person as a non-resident parent of a dependent child will continue, on average, for about 11 years. This suggests there are about 1.76 million non-resident parents of dependent-age children in GB at any one time. Most will not be registered with the CMS, either because the parents have made their own independent arrangements or because the non-resident parent has ceased to be liable to pay maintenance (or never was liable). In fact, this estimate suggests there are 4.8 times more non-resident parents than are registered with CMS.
This brings us to a rather frightening conclusion: if we assume that the elevation of death rates seen in the CMS data is associated with all non-resident parents, not just those who happen to be registered with CMS, then the annual number of excess deaths of non-resident parents is not 500 but 4.8 times that, i.e., 2,400. This is virtually the same as the annual number of suicides of men in the age range 25 to 55 in GB. Consequently, it is very unlikely that these 2,400 deaths are all suicides – at least of the type that would be counted in the suicide statistics – as this would preclude all other causes of men’s suicide in this age range. However these excess deaths may well be caused by the indirect factors discussed above.
What this estimate of excess deaths reveals is the enormity of the destruction of separated fathers’ lives which is being effectively hidden. And for every such death there are several hundreds more fathers who are put through the same emotional meat grinder. Meanwhile, back in the establishment, our so-called justice system sees fit to carry out family justice reviews which are 100% controlled by those who have created this meat grinder and who are dedicated to its grinding ever finer.
- Non-resident (payee) parents registered with the CMS in Great Britain are far more likely to die than people of the same sex and age range in the general population, even taking account of the fact that non-resident parents are almost all men who have a substantially higher death rate than women anyway.
- From the most recent (2020) FOI, paying parents (~95% fathers) are about 72% more likely to die than randomly selected men of the same age in the general population.
- From the most recent (2020) FOI, paying parents (~95% fathers) are about 142% more likely to die than receiving parents (95% mothers).
- Based on the CMS data the number of excess deaths in Great Britain of non-resident parents (95% fathers), i.e., in excess of expectation based on the general population of men of the same age, has been estimated to be 2,400.