Health

Can being a single mother harm your health?

We're all familiar with the disproportionately demanding lot of the single mother: in addition to the pressure of making all of the decisions (and accepting all of the blame when things go awry), she also shoulders the burden of being the sole financial support for a household, of driving back and forth between ballet classes and soccer practices, of making lunches and monitoring Internet access, and every other activity and form of support that parents are responsible for. It makes sense that being a single mother is more challenging and exhausting; but did you know that it can also affect a woman's long-term health?

single mom

Masterfile

We’re all familiar with the disproportionately demanding lot of the single mother: in addition to the pressure of making all of the decisions (and accepting all of the blame when things go awry), she also shoulders the burden of being the sole financial support for a household, of driving back and forth between ballet classes and soccer practices, of making lunches and monitoring Internet access, and every other activity and form of support that parents are responsible for. It makes sense that being a single mother is more challenging and exhausting; but did you know that it can also affect a woman’s long-term health?

According to a recent story written by Roni Caryn Rabin in the New York Times — “Disparities: Health Risks Seen for Single Mothers” — middle-aged women who were single when they had their first child faced greater stress and long-term health consequences. The information is based on a new report published in the American Sociological Review.

Writes Rabin: “The mothers were asked at age 40 to rate their health with a type of self-assessment considered a highly accurate indicator of health and future mortality. Both black and white women who had children outside of marriage ranked their health as worse than women who had their first children while married…The findings are of concern because unmarried women account for almost 40 percent of births in the United States, up from 10 percent in 1960, said Kristi Williams, an associate professor of sociology at the Ohio State University and the paper’s lead author.”

The article wasn’t specific about the types of health problems single mothers are more likely to have — but that may be because there’s a very full range of ailments that they’re more prone to. As we learn more and more about the devastating physical impact of stress, and as family arrangements continue to shift and defy the nuclear model, the next step will hopefully be to get these women some additional support to protect their health, both mental and physical.

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