June 3, 2011

Health Effects for Single Moms

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Unmarried mothers face poorer health at midlife than do women who have children after marriage, according to a new study.

This is the first U.S. study, led by Kristi Williams, associate professor of Sociology at the Ohio State University, to document long-term negative health effects for unwed mothers.

About 40 percent of all U.S. births are to unmarried women, compared to fewer than 10 percent in 1960, Williams said. This suggests there will soon be a population boom of single mothers suffering middle-aged health problems.

"We are soon going to have a large population of single mothers who are entering midlife, when many health problems just begin to emerge," Williams was quoted as saying. "This is a looming public health crisis that has been pretty much ignored by the public and by policymakers."

In addition, the study suggests that later marriage doesn't usually help reverse the negative health consequences of having a first birth outside of marriage. This calls into question that government's effort to promote marriage among low-income, single mothers, at least in terms of the consequences for these women's health.

In one analysis, the researchers used data on 3,391 and a second analysis involved data on 1,150 women. By 2008, the researchers had data on marriages and other unions for a 29 year period.

Most notably, the results shows Hispanic women who had a first child outside a marriage didn't have the same negative health effects at 40 that white and black women did. Researchers believe this is because Hispanic women may have children out of wedlock, but it's usually in a long-lasting cohabitation that mocks marriage.

"Research has clearly shown the toll that long-term stress takes on health, and we know that single mothers have a great deal of stress in their lives," Williams said. "Their economic problems only add to the problem."

"Marriage tends to help by providing women with economic and social support, but black women are disadvantaged in marriage in both of those respects," Williams said.

SOURCE: American Sociological Review, June 2, 2011.