Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Single moms entering midlife may lead to public health crisis, study suggests

Date:
June 14, 2011
Source:
Ohio State University
Summary:
Unwed mothers face poorer health at midlife than do women who have children after marriage, according to a new nationwide U.S. study. Researchers found that women who had their first child outside of marriage described their health as poorer at age 40 than did other moms.

Unwed mothers face poorer health at midlife than do women who have children after marriage, according to a new nationwide study.

Related Articles


Researchers found that women who had their first child outside of marriage described their health as poorer at age 40 than did other moms.

This is the first U.S. study to document long-term negative health consequences for unwed mothers, and it has major implications for our society, said Kristi Williams, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

About 40 percent of all births in the United States now occur to unmarried women, compared to fewer than 10 percent in 1960, Williams said. That suggests there will soon be a population boom in the United States 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. This is a looming public health crisis that has been pretty much ignored by the public and by policymakers."

Moreover, the study suggests that later marriage does not generally help reverse the negative health consequences of having a first birth outside of marriage. This calls into question the value of government efforts to promote marriage, among low-income, single mothers, at least in terms of their consequences for these women's health.

"It is a tall order to expect that marriage can counteract the cumulative strains of unwed motherhood and their eventual negative impact on health," Williams said.

The study appears in the June 2011 issue of the American Sociological Review.

The study used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has followed a nationally representative sample of nearly 13,000 men and women who were aged 14-22 in 1979. They were interviewed every year through 1994 and every two years since.

In one analysis, the researchers used data on 3,391 women 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, and measures of health and well-being taken when the women were 40.

In general, the results showed that unwed mothers reported poorer health at age 40 than did other mothers. But there were several notable differences between racial and ethnic groups.

Most notably, Hispanic women who had a first child outside marriage did not have the same negative health consequences at age 40 that white and black women did. The researchers suspect that it has to do with the fact that when Hispanic women have a child out of wedlock, it is more likely to occur in a long-term cohabiting relationship that resembles marriage.

Hispanic single mothers may also be a part of larger and more close-knit family networks than single moms from other racial and ethnic groups, which can provide support that protects their health and helps them cope.

Williams said it was beyond the scope of this study to determine why unwed mothers in general had poorer health than others. But other research suggests it may be related to the high levels of stress and the poor economic conditions faced by single moms.

"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."

But if single motherhood is hard on women's health, the answer isn't necessarily getting married, Williams said.

Results showed that for most women, the negative consequences of having a first birth out of wedlock won't be eased by a later marriage or cohabiting union. The one exception, at least in some cases, was marrying the biological father.

For the total sample (including black, white and Hispanic women), those who married the biological father of their child and remained married to him did have better health at age 40 than did those who didn't have partners. But that advantage did not apply to black women, who have a larger percentage of out-of-wedlock births compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups.

"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.

"Black single mothers are more likely to marry men who have poor economic prospects, in part because decades of poverty have contributed to a shortage of marriageable men."

These results cast doubt on the benefits of government efforts to promote marriage for the health of women most affected by such efforts, Williams said. Beginning with the 1996 U.S. welfare reform act, federal and state governments have developed programs to promote marriage, particularly among low-income single mothers. These efforts have included public advertising campaigns emphasizing the importance of marriage and programs providing relationship skills training.

"Studies have shown the average benefits of marriage to women in the general population," she said. "But this study shows that these benefits don't apply equally to single mothers, at least when it comes to health. They have too much working against them to benefit from marriage in most cases."

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University. The original article was written by Jeff Grabmeier. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. K. Williams, S. Sassler, A. Frech, F. Addo, E. Cooksey. Nonmarital Childbearing, Union History, and Women's Health at Midlife. American Sociological Review, 2011; 76 (3): 465 DOI: 10.1177/0003122411409705

Cite This Page:

Ohio State University. "Single moms entering midlife may lead to public health crisis, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110602081831.htm>.
Ohio State University. (2011, June 14). Single moms entering midlife may lead to public health crisis, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110602081831.htm
Ohio State University. "Single moms entering midlife may lead to public health crisis, study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110602081831.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

The Best Tips to Curb Holiday Carbs

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) It's hard to resist those delicious but fattening carbs we all crave during the winter months, but there are some ways to stay satisfied without consuming the extra calories. Vanessa Freeman (@VanessaFreeTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins