The Health Toll of Single Motherhood


The Health Toll of Single Motherhood

Single mothers are face higher risks of health issues and there are over nine million single mothers in the United States today. On top of demanding work schedules and child care responsibilities, single moms face a higher risk of developing health problems than their married peers.

The health effects of single parenthood

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, employed single mothers are 40 percent more likely to have cardiovascular health problems and 74 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to married moms who worked. They are also 77 percent more likely to smoke.

The more time women spend parenting alone, the more likely their health will worsen as they age, affecting their ability to do even the most menial tasks.

Lisa Berkman, a professor at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, collected data from more than 25,000 women in the U.S. and Europe and found that the risk of developing health problems rose by nearly 80 percent among women who were single parents for 14 or more years.

"Single mothers in almost all countries had poorer health as they reach older age than women who were married," said Berkman. "They have a difficult time performing . . . things like climbing up stairs, getting around, cooking."

While more studies are needed to identify the root causes, researchers point to the stress of single motherhood as a major perpetrator.

How access to community resources helps single mothers

The poverty rate for single mother-headed families in 2013 was almost 40 percent, five times higher than the rate for married-couple families. More than half live in extreme poverty on incomes below that of the federal poverty level. Nearly 35 percent of single-mother families were food insecure, and one-third spent more than half of their income on housing.

Single parents across all income levels are more likely to lack health insurance: in 2013, more than 20 percent did not have health coverage, compared to just ten percent of married parents. Nearly half of these families reside in states that have declined to expand their Medicaid programs.

There’s no silver bullet to alleviating single mothers’ health problems, and solutions posited by experts so far — get remarried or earn more money — aren’t easy to maneuver for moms who are already struggling to stay afloat. That’s why greater access to community organizations, such as through Healthify's Community Care Network, that can lift the burden — whether it be on childcare, food security, employment, or health care — are vital to ensuring the mental and physical well-being of single mothers.

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Topics: health disparities public health

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