Generic filters
Search in title
Search in content
Search in excerpt

Family relationships and family members’ self-reported mental health and wellbeing

Key message
Estonian family structures have diversified over time. However, family members’ mental health and wellbeing do not depend on family structure alone. The relationships between family members are more important than family composition.With its diverse family structures, Estonian society needs both formal and informal support networks for families to ensure the availability of prevention and intervention methods that support mental health and wellbeing for all families and family members.

Every person is part of a family. We are connected with our family members through family relationships, even if we do not live with them or meet them every day. The family is a child’s main context for socialisation, where they learn the meaning of coexisting with others.From family members, the child learns how to participate in a relationship and how to recognise and share their joys and sorrows. Relationship patterns acquired from the family are tacitly passed down to future generations.

Today’s families feature a diverse range of family structures, requiring adjustment and a conscious effort to cope.

Today’s families are characterised by diverse family structures – divorce and repartnering. Today’s families are characterised by diverse family structures – divorce and repartnering. At the same time, a change in family structure does not necessarily cause family relationships to deteriorate. It often leads to relationships between family members that function better (e.g. an abusive parent moving out). In any case, a change in family relationships requires adjustment and a conscious effort to function better.

International studies show that family relationships significantly affect the well-being of adults and have a decisive role in life satisfaction in Estonia and other countries where individuals have a great deal of freedom when it comes to forming couple relationships, becoming a parent or deciding on the number of children they want to have (Margolis and Myrskylä 2013). Among the various aspects of life satisfaction, positive relationships with family members are not in the best shape in Estonia. Compared with other European countries, adults in Estonia have fewer people they can rely on in times of need (Ruggeri et al. 2020). Family relationships also have a significant impact on children’s life satisfaction. If the child cannot understand why the parents are divorcing and forming a new family, and the child is not involved in decisions about their future, this can negatively impact the child’s well-being. (Kutsar and Nahkur 2021).

In this article, we seek answers to three questions: 1. How have Estonian family structures changed over time? 2. How are the mental health and well-being of children and adult family members in different family structures related to satisfaction with family relationships? 3. How do children and adults living in different family structures evaluate their mental health and well-being? We also discuss how the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic affected the mental health and well-being of children and parents in Estonia. We look at mental health and well-being primarily in terms of overall satisfaction with life. Here we define family as people who live together and are in a couple relationship or parental relationship. This includes adults in a couple relationship with or without children, single parents living with one or more of their children but whose partner does not live with the family, as well as families with children and a stepparent.

Estonian family structures have diversified over time

To understand the changes in Estonian family structures over the past 15 years, we used the 2005 (N = 5,642) and 2021–2022 (N = 9,088) data from the Estonian Generations and Gender Survey, which is a representative study of adult Estonian residents aged 18 to 60.
The patterns of family formation in Estonia have significantly changed over time. At the beginning of the 20th century, 70% of young people started their unions with a marriage, but among the birth cohorts of the 1960s and 1970s, more than 90% of couples started their unions within cohabitation. (Puur and Rahnu 2011). MT
The trend of childbearing not being confined to marriage only appeared in Estonia already in the 1960s, when 14% of children were born out-of-wedlock. The same trend continues today, when more than half of children are born to cohabiting parents.

Figure 3.1.1. Distribution and change of family structures among adults aged 18–60

#faili sisselugemine ja andmete formaadi korrigeerimine
J311=read.csv2("PT3-T3.1-J3.1.1.csv",header=TRUE, encoding ="UTF-8")

  scale_fill_manual(values=c("#38bf7b","#6666cc","#e0e8d6","#8fa300","#81DBFE","#1E272E"))+ #Et anda ette terve vektor värve, on vaja lisada eraldi funktsioon. Siin on vaja sätida "täidet" (filli), seega scale_fill_manual
  theme(text = element_text(color="#668080"),axis.text=element_text(color="#668080"))+
  theme(legend.position = "bottom")+

Source: figure by the authors, based on the Estonian Generations and Gender Survey data from 2005 and 2021–2022

The diversification of family structures can also be seen in the change in the share of single-parent and stepparent families. The majority of Estonian families consist of two parents and their biological child or children. (Steinbach et al. 2016). At the same time, the proportion of people living alone and, to some extent, people living in families with a stepparent has increased in Estonia over time. (vt figure 3.1.1). In 2021, 76.9% of all families with children (N = 3,488) in Estonia were those with two birth parents, 9.7% were single-parent families, and 13.4% were stepparent families. Compared to 2005, the share of both birth-parent and single-parent families has somewhat decreased (by 1.5% and 5.2%, respectively), while the share of people living in stepparent families has increased (6.7%), especially among women, for whom the increase is almost tenfold. (vt figure 3.1.2). Ü In the same period, the share of families with a single mother decreased by more than one-third, while the share of families with a single father more than doubled. It appears that after a previous couple relationship or marriage ends, women who raise children alone have less trouble finding a new partner than men who raise children alone.

The proportion of stepparent and single-parent families in Estonia is one of the largest in Europe. With its high proportion of stepparent families, Estonia is similar to other Eastern European countries. And its high proportion of single-parent families makes Estonia similar to Northern European countries. (Steinbach et al. 2016).

Figure 3.1.2. Distribution and change of family structures among adults aged 18–60 living with children under 18