WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2011 Unwed mothers face poorer health at midlife than do women who have children after marriage, according to a new nationwide study, which appears in the June 2011 issue of the American Sociological Review.
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 less 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," Williams said. "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 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.<
|Contact: Daniel Fowler|
American Sociological Association