Raising children on your own? Pay careful attention to self-care.  (Photo: Getty Images)

Raising children on your own? Pay careful attention to self-care. (Photo: Getty Images)

Raising children on your own, at any time before age 50, increases your chances of poor health or disability later in life, according to a research team from the Harvard University.

The new study evaluated the health and lifestyles of women from all over the world and found that single motherhood was most likely to be linked to poor health in women who live in the United States, England, Denmark and Sweden.

Poor health risks were the highest in the women who became single mothers before age 20. Women who became single mothers as a result of divorce were also included in the Harvard study, which assessed the health status of more than 25,000 women 50 and older in the United States, England and 13 European countries, across a range of racial and economic groups.

Racial stereotypes — especially concepts common in the United States — promote the idea that most single mothers are black, but national birth statistics show that is untrue. In America, 28 percent of single mothers are black, 46 percent are white, 23 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are Asian, according to the 2013 U. S. Census.

Hard to Determine Cause and Effect

“The [study] findings add to the growing recognition that single motherhood may have long-term health effects on mothers. As lone motherhood is on the rise in many countries, policies addressing health disadvantages of lone mothers may be essential to improving women’s health and reducing disparities,” wrote the researchers, led by Lisa Berkman, Ph.D., director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Mass.

In the United States, one third of mothers are single before age 50. The number is 22 percent in European countries and close to 40 percent in Denmark and Sweden. In all of the countries studied, single mothers tended to younger and poorer than other parents. In the United States and England they were likely to have lower levels of education.

Berkman and her team think the answer may be more support for single moms. The message to women raising children on their own may also be to pay careful attention to self-care. Sacrificing for ones’ children is human nature, but single mothers should resist the urge to care for everyone else before caring for themselves.


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