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SALT LAKE CITY — While research has shown that single mothers are more at risk for health problems later in life, a new study revealed that risk may be tied to where they live.
Researchers from across the world — London, Germany, China and the U.S. — came together to see if the mental and physical health issues, typically stemming from depression, applied to women in all areas of the world.
The researchers collected information from 25,000 women who called the U.S. or Europe home. The women — all of whom were over the age of 50 — were asked to rate their own health, list any limitations they had, and whether they were married and/or had children, according to the study.
The goal — “to test whether single motherhood at ages 16 to 49 was associated with increased risk of limitations with activities of daily living and fair/poor self-rated health later in life,” study authors wrote.
Turns out there is a link — women who became single moms in early to mid-adulthood experienced poorer mental and physical health later in life, according to researchers.
The risk for single motherhood was greatest for women in Scandinavia, where 38 percent reported becoming single mothers before age 50. The U.S. came in second place, with 33 percent, followed by England, at 22 percent.
So again, is it single motherhood or economic well-being that really matters in determining health? And what about access to affordable health care?
–author Dr. Bella DePaulo
Southern Europe had the lowest number of women reporting single motherhood with just 10 percent. Researchers speculated that could have something to do with a strong family support system, according to Yahoo News.
That’s something the U.S. could consider in policy, according to author Dr. Bella DePaulo.
“We can do that in our policies by extending the Family and Medical Leave Act to include people other than a spouse,” she told Yahoo News. “That way, when a single mother becomes ill, other people in her life who are in eligible workplaces can take time off under the act to help her.”
The greatest factors playing into poor health are likely lack of money, career or education opportunities, researchers noted. If single mothers had the same opportunities as married moms, their health would most likely be better.
“So again, is it single motherhood or economic well-being that really matters in determining health?” said DePaulo. “And what about access to affordable health care?”
Researchers stressed that the study only found association, not cause.
“We can never know for sure whether single motherhood causes poorer health,” DePaulo said.