Sole working mums have poorer physical and mental health than partnered working mothers in Australia, a new study has found.
The study, conducted by researchers at the School of Psychology and Centre for Health Initiatives at the University of Wollongong, compared physical and mental health of sole and partnered working mothers and examined whether their health differed depending on the amount of social support they received and the hours they worked.
Ms Laura Robinson, who is completing her PhD in the School of Psychology at UOW on the work and family interactions of working mothers and their experiences of psychological distress and burnout, co-authored the study, which was published in Women’s Studies International Forum.
“This study found that sole parent working mothers had poorer physical and mental health than partnered working mothers,” Ms Robinson said.
The study also surprisingly found that physical health was the same for partnered mothers regardless of how many hours they were working each week. This was not the case for sole parent mothers, who, had better physical health if they worked more than 40 hours per week, rather than working fewer hours.
“Possible explanations include greater access to higher income, which is linked to better health, and also these women may have greater resources available (such as child care) which reduces some of the strain in balancing work and family demands,” Ms Robinson said.
The findings also suggest that sole mothers have greater psychological health risks when experiencing low levels of social support.
“This is not surprising, as research shows that social support is closely related to health, and that sole mothers often have poorer social support and health than partnered mothers,” Ms Robinson said.
Ms Robinson said Australia needs new strategies to increase social support for sole mothers to help boost their health.
“There is a role for organisations to increase social support within the workplace by fostering social interactions at work, such as encouraging group problem solving, peer support groups and educating managers on the importance of social support,” she said.
This study is part of a longitudinal research program at UOW looking at burnout and work-family balance in Australian working mothers.
(Source: University of Wollongong, Women’s Studies International Forum)