Is Being a Single Mom Bad For Your Health?

A recent study found that single mothers in their 40s have worse health than married moms, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Posted: 06/10/2011 07:53 AM EDT
Filed Under health care

Over the past year, we have heard a lot of about single mothers, especially African-American ones. Last November, when a report conducted by the U.S. federal government came out claiming that 72 percent of all African-American children were born to unwed Black mothers (no mention of unwed Black fathers), all hell broke loose. Pundits blamed Black mothers for why poverty is rampant in the Black community, why prison rates are so high among young Black men because they were not raised in a "stable" two-parent home; and how the women's own "reluctance" to get married is what is weakening the Black family structure.

 

Last week the results about single mother's health were released. And it's not that encouraging.

 

Sociologists from the Ohio State University are claiming that single mothers who are middle aged—in their '40s—may have worse health than women who were married when they had their children. This study spanned 30 years and included over 4,000 mothers from across the country. The mothers were interviewed every year until 1994, and then every two years afterward until 2008. Through these series of interviews which asked about their health outcomes, researchers concluded that women with a child out of wedlock reported lower levels of health at age 40 than did those who were married when they had their first child. The results held even after the researchers took into account factors that could influence the mother's health, including education level and health conditions that existed before 1979.

 

It's also important to note that the researchers have no real evidence as to why they found the results that they found, especially since their results were based on self-reporting. However, they speculated that lower health risks may be due to the stress and financial strain that often accompany single parenthood. Both of which have been linked to poorer health in past studies.

 

And that makes sense. Not to mention, a single mother is taking on the world to make sure her children have everything, and in the end may be ignoring her own health needs. But that can happen for women who are married.

 

Either way, researchers admitted that their study was small and clearly needs more follow-up.

 

But here's what gets really interesting. Getting married after you had these children didn’t necessary remedy former single mother's health either. They found that only women who married the biological father, remained married to him, and was white or Hispanic. Health outcomes did not improve for Black mothers who married Black men after the fact.

 

Um, what?

 

Could this mean that all the propaganda and campaigns that have been geared toward single Black women to marry their baby father's because of the health benefits and economic advantages that marriage brings may be nothing but one-dimensional hype?

 

The researchers admit that perhaps it may be. They also stress the obvious: Health outcomes are directly related to economics. The more money you have, the healthier you are. But here is the elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring: Marriage in the Black community doesn't necessarily equal wealth, especially given the high rates of poverty and lack of access in our community. For many couples, the joining of two bank accounts with little money still equals poverty, which still equals poor health.

 

And I am not saying people should just have children that they cannot afford. If you are already in the hole, why make it worse? But it's not fair for people to keep pretending that marriage is going to solve all of our problems, make us healthier and strengthen the Black family.

 

If anything, economic stability, jobs, education and initiatives to keep us out of prisons/jails will strengthen our community and our health—married or single.

(Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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