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.
Among white an
|Contact: Daniel Fowler|
American Sociological Association