Single motherhood tied to poorer health in later life

Reuters 21 May 2015
Raising a child alone may take a lasting toll, leading to poorer health and more struggles with daily tasks after age 50, according to a new international study.

Social safety nets and resources from extended families may blunt this effect in some countries more than others, and researchers found the association with poor health was strongest in the U.S., England, Sweden and Denmark, compared to southern European countries.

“We had anticipated that single mothers in the U.S. would do poorly given that so many single moms are poor or low wage workers and that the U.S. lacks most basic social protections for single mothers compared to other countries,” said lead author Dr. Lisa F. Berkman of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“What was surprising was that U.K. women did about the same as the U.S. single women,” and single mothers in Scandinavian countries seemed to be at risk as well, Berkman told Reuters Health by email.

Scandinavia has some of the stronger maternity leave and basic anti-poverty programs, but women there still had a tough time, she said.

“We suspect that the basic social protection was still very helpful to them but not sufficient to protect these women,” she said. “They still tend to be poorer than married mothers and it may be that their work situations were challenging and that their extended families were not as supportive as those in Southern European countries.”

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