There's no doubt single, working moms shoulder an incredible amount of responsibility. And now it turns out the insane balancing act of trying to be everything to everyone is taking a toll on many single moms' hearts. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health looks at how this group of women is at the greatest risk for heart disease and stroke.
As compared to married working mothers, single mamas with jobs are far more likely to suffer from heart health-related issues. Is it the stress of being a single parent and supporting a family that's the heftiest burden? Study co-author Frank van Lenthe says the increased risk could also be a result of unhealthy choices, like smoking, as single moms are more likely to light up. But the two factors are inextricably linked. He says the loss of a partner and that income "may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors."
In the Danish study, researchers looked at 18,000 U.S. and European women born between 1935 and 1956, and their working patterns. They found that 11 percent of the American women and 5 percent of Europeans were single moms with jobs. Relying on self-reports of behaviors that increase one's risk for cardiovascular problems, researchers determined single working moms in the U.S. had three times the risk of heart disease and more than double the risk of stroke versus married moms with jobs.
In both countries, single working moms had 1.4 times the risk of heart disease and 1.7 times the risk of stroke. The higher risk for American women may have something to do with the lack of employer policies that support them, researchers conjecture.
This research builds on past studies that have found working, married moms are the healthiest. "Work and marriage offer, or at least increase the possibility of, financial and social security," van Lenthe said.
It's worth noting the study isn't saying that being a working single mom creates health problems, merely that there is an association.
There's no doubt reading about a study like this might be frustrating for single moms, who often can't control their living situations. Let this be the takeaway: if you feel incredibly stretched thin, and emotionally overtaxed as a single working parent, this study can be your gentle reminder to find ways to de-stress, and focus on your health, whether it's getting more support from family and friends, finding more time to do things you enjoy, or finally making diet and exercise a priority in your life.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.