For Single Mothers: Stress of juggling work and childcare raises risk of heart disease by 40% and stroke by 74%

Single mothers with a job have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than their married peers, a study has found.They are also more likely to smoke than married women – a known risk factor of disease, researchers revealed.

Losing the support of a partner – and a partner’s income – ‘may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors,’ they said.


The team, from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, examined data on health, work and marital status for almost 11,000 women in Europe and 6,000 women in the US who were born between 1935 and 1956.

The odds of being a single working mother were twice as high in the US than Europe, they found.

In the US, 11 per cent of women had been in that position at some point in their lives, compared to 5 per cent of women in Europe.

Compared with married mothers who worked, single mothers with jobs were 40 per cent more likely to have heart disease and 74 per cent more likely to have a stroke.

They were also 77 per cent more likely to smoke, the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found.

‘Work and marriage offer, or at least increase, the possibility of financial and social security,’ said Dr Frank van Lenthe, the study’s author, from Erasmus University Medical Center.

‘Losing support from a partner, or the security of a job, may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors,’ he told Reuters Health.

The other groups researchers studied were single working women without children; stay-at-home married mothers and married mothers with jobs.

In general, the researchers found what other studies have also concluded – that women who were consistently working, married and had children were the healthiest of all.

Even though being a single mother was linked with worse heart health, researchers didn’t find any evidence that this association was stronger for women in the US than in Europe.

The study team adjusted the data for US women to make their marital, work and parental status match the distribution for women in Europe.

When they did this, the US women’s risk of stroke went down by one percentage point and their risk of high blood pressure fell two percentage points.

This indicates the differences in ‘work-life trajectories’ between European and US women don’t fully explain why American women have much higher rates of heart disease and stroke, researchers said.

One limitation of the study is its reliance on women to accurately report medical problems and whether they are employed at several points in time.35655E7B00000578-0-In_general_the_researchers_found_what_other_studies_have_also_co-a-34_1466164127984

The researchers also lacked information on the number of children women had, family support, relationships that didn’t involve marriage and the hours or type of work done by employed women.

It is possible that financial factors influence the odds of cardiovascular disease, said Margot Witvliet, a researcher at Norwegian University of Science and Technology who wasn’t involved in the study.

‘Having one child is very different from having two or more, which is often the case for American single mothers,’ Ms Witvliet said by email.

‘Perhaps other factors such as economics might be more important. Further research is needed to really understand the situation.’

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