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Does being a single mom lead to midlife health problems?

In the first nationwide study to examine long-term negative health consequences for unwed mothers, single moms were shown to have poorer health at midlife than their married counterparts. As Booster Shots reported today:

Lead author Kristi Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which followed nearly 13,000 men and women born between 1957 and 1965. Participants in the survey have been interviewed regularly over a course of about 30 years.

Among other questions, the survey asked participants to rate their health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. Williams and her team looked at women's self-reported health at age 40. In general - and particularly among whites and blacks - women who were unmarried when they had their first child reported worse health at age 40 than women who were married when they had their first baby. (Hispanics did not seem to have the same health troubles. This may be because they're more likely to be in marriagelike relationships and have strong family networks to help cope with parenthood, the authors said.)

An American Sociological Association release notes that later marriage generally didn't help reverse the health consequences of being unmarried when first becoming a mom. The authors also discussed their concern, given the country's growing number of single mothers, about a potential "population boom" of women with health issues:

“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.”

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