These children are less likely to graduate from high school and college, and more likely to develop depression, according to the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers.
"The findings are alarming, and they suggest we should be doing more to ensure that these children don't get lost in the shuffle," study lead author Jennie Brand, an associate professor of sociology and associate director of UCLA's California Center for Population Research, said in a university news release.
"Through no fault of their own, [the children] appear to be paying years down the line for their mothers' employment issues," she added.
The researchers analyzed 30 years of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in order to compare outcomes among children of single mothers who were laid off before their children were 17 years old, and children whose mothers did not lose their jobs.
The children of mothers who were laid off were 15 percent less likely to finish high school, 24 percent less likely to attend college and 33 percent less likely to graduate from college than children of mothers who kept their jobs, the findings showed.
Also, by the time they reached their late 20s, children of mothers who had been laid off were much more likely to have symptoms of depression, according to the study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology.
The risks of harmful effects were greatest among children who were ages 12 to 17 when their mothers lost their jobs. These children were 40 percent less likely to graduate from high school, 25 percent less likely to attend college and 45 percent less likely to graduate from college than children whose mothers remained employed.
The researchers also found that children who were ages 6 to 11 when their mothers lost their jobs had the most severe symptoms of depression in their late 20s.
The negative effects of a single mother's job loss were particularly strong on children if the mother had a stable work history and didn't expect to lose her job, and if the mother was laid off during a time when the economy was strong.
While researchers found an association between mothers' job loss and their children's education and mental health status, it did not establish a cause and effect.
"Our study shows that the children of displaced mothers struggle educationally and psychologically for many years afterward, and thus are themselves more likely to suffer from employment instability," Brand said in the news release.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about single-parent families.