Is Being a Single Mom Bad for Your Health?

Results of a 2015 Study on the Impact of Being a Single Mom on Lifelong Health

Single mom kissing her baby's head
Photo © Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health recently revealed findings that are no surprise to many single moms: parenting solo can have a negative impact on your health. The report, titled “Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers,” explored the connection between single parenting and poor health later in life. Based on data from 25,125 women across 15 countries, the report found that 33% of single moms living in America, who entered single motherhood before age 50, had a higher risk for “poorer health and disability” later in life.

Risk Factors

The report also identified four high-risk factors that could intensify negative health impacts:

  • Entering single motherhood before age 20
  • Being a single mother for 8 or more years
  • Single parenting as a result of divorce
  • Non-marital childbearing (not being married at the time of birth)

How being a single parent could impact one's health

This isn't the first study to suggest that being a single parent can be detrimental to one's health. Multiple studies suggest that single motherhood could contribute to:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease

And in some ways, this is not hard to imagine, right? Because there's a constant hum of multitasking in the background, making sure that everyone in your life has what they need when they need it. Combine that stress with having no time to yourself, or experiencing constant conflict with your ex or extended family members, and it's easy to see how the responsibilities of single parenting could have lasting impacts.

Yet ... Let's not stop there. Because there are things you can do to mitigate the stress of parenting on your own.

What does this mean for you?

First, some of these studies need to be taken with a grain of salt. There are other factors that affect long-term health that weren't considered—such as income level and access to quality health care.

So this study does not mean that every single mother is likely to experience poor health later in life. But it is a good reminder about the importance of proactively taking care of yourself

How to mitigate the stress of being a single mother

Reducing the level of stress in your life requires some proactive planning. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Schedule a physical. You're probably good about making sure your kids get check-ups, but it's easy to let your own medical care slip.
  • Get moving. Physical activity is essential to reducing stress. Something as simple as a daily walk after dinner can dramatically lower the negative impact of everyday stress on your life—and your body.
  • Get some ZZZs. Have you become a night owl out of necessity? Start going to bed fifteen minutes early. Then, after a week, try to go to bed another fifteen minutes earlier than that ... until you're getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis.
  • Eat well. Make an effort to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water during the day. 
  • Talk it out. Stress wasn't meant to be carried inside. So make time to talk with a friend, or try writing in a journal as a way of processing your feelings.
  • Schedule your down time. Grab your calendar and schedule a 'date' with yourself ... even if that just means talking 30 minutes to read a book instead of doing chores.
  • Get the kids involved. Finally, realize that you don't have to take it all on yourself. Do chores as a family and share household responsibilities with your kids.

Source:

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Berkman, Lisa F., et. al. "Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers." May 15, 2015. [http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2015/05/22/jech-2014-205149]