For Better or for Worse? The Effect of Union Transitions on the Mental and Physical Health of Single Mothers

Kristi Williams, Ohio State University
Sharon Sassler, Ohio State University
Lisa Nicholson, Ohio State University

Is marriage equally beneficial to everyone? This question should be important to policy makers interested in the potential effectiveness of marriage-promotion strategies. The present study uses longitudinal data from the National Survey of Families and Households to test the hypothesis that single mothers do not receive the same mental and physical health benefits from entering a marriage compared to their childless counterparts. Results indicate that entering a marriage does not benefit the mental and physical health of single mothers, even when the analysis is restricted to those whose marriages endure throughout the study period. Single mothers who enter a marriage that dissolves before the end of the study report increased psychological distress and diminished self-assessed health relative to the continually unmarried. Even marriages that endure do not offer physical health benefits to single mothers. Cohabitation offers no significant mental and physical health benefits to single mothers or their childless counterparts.

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Presented in Session 53: Marital Status, Partnership Status, and Health