Stockholm 2003 abstracts: Sara Alander & Bo Burström

Sara Alander & Bo Burström
Karolinska Institutet

Economic strain and health among lone mothers in Sweden 1979-1998


A more equitable allocation of resources in a society may lead to improved population health. The situation of lone mothers may be seen as a litmus paper on how equitable a society is, and the performance of its welfare systems. Swedish society saw great changes 1979-1998, making this an interesting period to study the effect of societal factors on lone mothers� health.

Purpose: study to what extent altered living conditions, manifested in economic strain have affected the self-rated health (SRH) of lone mothers compared to married/cohabiting mothers during 1979-1998. Study population: 22308 mothers aged 16-54, of which 19122 were married/cohabiting and 3186 lone (ULF-data). Exposure variable for economic strain: having had difficulties to make ends meet in the last year. Outcome measure: less than good SRH. Prevalence rates, risk differences and odds ratios were calculated.

All mothers saw increased prevalence of ill health and economic crisis. The increase was however larger in both relative and absolute terms for lone mothers. Those affected by economic crisis increasingly reported ill health. More lone than married/cohabiting mothers reported ill health. This overrisk was to a great extent explained by having experienced economic strain. The explanatory value of economic strain varied over time. Groups of lone mothers: young, low educated and foreign born reported even larger increases of ill health and economic crisis.

The increase of economic strain among lone mothers could be due to the design of the labour market. Deterioration of social security nets may also have contributed to more people being affected by economic strain. Increasing numbers are exposed to economic strain and with the increased vulnerability, more report ill health. The variation over time of the explanatory value of economic strain might indicate a larger impact on health of remaining poor during times when the state of the economy improves.

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