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Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers

Berkman, Lisa F., Zheng, Yuhui, Glymour, M. Maria, Avendano, Mauricio, Börsch-Supan, Axel and Sabbath, Erika L. (2015) Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 69 (9). pp. 865-872. ISSN 0143-005X

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Identification Number: 10.1136/jech-2014-205149


Background: Single motherhood is associated with poorer health, but whether this association varies between countries is not known. We examine associations between single motherhood and poor later-life health in the US, England and 13 European countries. Methods: Data came from 25,125 women aged 50+ who participated in the US Health and Retirement Study, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, and Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. We tested whether single motherhood at ages 16-49 was associated with increased risk of limitations with activities of daily living (ADL), instrumental ADL (IADL) and fair/poor self-rated health in later life. Results: 33% of American mothers had experienced single motherhood before age 50, versus 22% in England, 38% in Scandinavia, 22% in Western Europe and 10% in Southern Europe. Single mothers had higher risk of poorer health and disability in later life than married mothers, but associations varied between countries. For example, risk ratios for ADL limitations were 1.51 (95% CI 1.29, 1.98) in England, 1.50 (1.10, 2.05) in Scandinavia and 1.27 (1.17, 1.40) in the US, versus 1.09 (0.80, 1.47) in Western Europe, 1.13 (0.80, 1.60) in Southern Europe, and 0.93 (0.66, 1.31) in Eastern Europe. Women who were single mothers before age 20, for 8+ years, or resulting from divorce or non-marital childbearing, were at particular risk. Conclusion: Single motherhood during early- or mid-adulthood is associated with poorer health in later life. Risks were greatest in England, the US, and Scandinavia. Both selection and causation mechanisms might explain between-country variation.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2015 The Author. Produced by BMJ Publishing Group Ltd under licence
Divisions: Social Policy
Lifecourse, Ageing & Population Health
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Date Deposited: 26 May 2015 15:57
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:16

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