June 28, 2016
2 min read

Working single mothers may have higher risk for CHD, stroke

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Being a working single mother may increase a woman’s risk for CHD and stroke, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health.

However, differences in work–family trajectories only explain a small fraction of the increased CV risk, according to the researchers.

“Work and marriage offer, or at least increase, the possibility of financial and social security,” Frank van Lenthe, PhD, from the department of public health at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said in a statement. “Losing support from a partner, or the security of a job, may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors.”

Frank van Lenthe

Van Lenthe and colleagues used sequence analysis to identify work–family typologies for women in the United States (n = 5,985) and 13 European countries (n = 10,569) born between 1935 and 1956. The researchers then analyzed the association between these typologies and CV outcomes at age 50 years and older.

According to the results, being a working single mother was linked to higher CV risk in both Europe and the United States, but it was more common and more strongly linked to stroke in the United States (11%; OR = 2.36; 95% CI, 1.55-3.58) compared with Europe (5%; OR = 0.88; 95% CI, 0.39-1.97). The higher stroke risk, however, would only be slightly reduced if American women had experienced the same work–family trajectories as European women, according to the researchers.

“These findings suggest that differences in work–family typologies explained only a small fraction of the increased prevalence of [CVD] of Americans relative to European women,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers offered two suggestions on why family conditions only had a slight impact on U.S. women’s health disadvantage: First, although the odds of being a single working mother was higher in the United States, they were still only a small percentage of the population. Second, only stroke risk was significantly higher when comparing American single working mothers with their European counterparts.

Although it may be tempting to tailor health promotion strategies to this specific group of women, these types of interventions have had limited success. Instead, there is a need to develop wider policies to support single mothers in both the United States and in Europe,” van Lenthe said in the statement. “Policies relieving the stress from combining a job and the care of children may be more effective and support disease prevention. Generous maternal leave policies, affordable child care, the ability to work part-time or providing employees the opportunity to work at times that suite them best (to the extent possible) may be most effective in reducing this type of health disparity.” – by Tracey Romero

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.