Academic journal article Population

Self-Reported Health among Lone Mothers in Switzerland: Do Employment and Education Matter?

Academic journal article Population

Self-Reported Health among Lone Mothers in Switzerland: Do Employment and Education Matter?

Article excerpt

Research in different fields shows health to be unevenly distributed across social groups. Differentials in health outcomes have been attributed to a number of individual-level, family-level, and society-level characteristics (Dannefer, 2003; Fritzell et al., 2007; Weitoft Ringbäck et al., 2002; Whitehead et al., 2000). At the individual level, characteristics associated with better health outcomes include being employed and living with a partner (Cullati, 2014; Huber et al., 2011). Employment status and partnership status have separately received much attention as determinants of health, but in a life-course perspective (Elder et al., 2003), knowing about how these three life domains interact can shed light on the characteristics of a potentially vulnerable population. This is particularly relevant in times of rapidly changing family arrangements due to increasing separation and divorce rates: lone parenthood is becoming a common experience in different social groups and this fosters increasing differentiation among individuals who are lone parents for a period in their lives (Bernardi and Mortelmans, 2016; Eidoux and Letablier, 2007).

Being a working lone mother has been proven to be associated with poorer health in the US (Bianchi and Milkie, 2010), demonstrating unexpected associations between employment and health. The few existing studies on the relationship between paid work and health for lone parents offer mixed empirical evidence (Friedland and Price, 2003; Macran et al., 1994). Some studies find a negative relationship between paid work and lone parents' health: compared to partnered mothers, employed lone mothers do not profit from the potential health benefits of employment (Avison et al., 2007; Burström et al., 2010; Dziaket al., 2010). This may be partly attributable to the additional stresses associated with their multiple roles, i.e. difficulties in work-family reconciliation (Okechukwu et al., 2011; Sabbath et al., 2011). Studies that compare employed to unemployed lone mothers show that the former display better physical and psychological health (e.g., Hewitt et al. 2006). Yet in most cases, differences are largely explained by higher income levels of employed mothers (Conger and Elder, 1994; Hope et al., 1999; Wickrama et al., 2006). Some evidence does exist, however, for the positive effects of employment for lone mothers, even adjusting for the increase in income (Ross and Bird, 1994). Finally, welfare state and social policies are important determinants of health and inequalities in health (Beckfield and Krieger, 2009; Berkman et al., 2015).

We contribute to the existing literature by considering the association between family arrangements, health, and employment in Switzerland, where low levels of welfare support for parents (OFS, 2015) coexist with a highly gendered division of labour, high prevalence of part-time employment among women, and a wide gender pay gap (Bütler and Ruesch, 2007; Stutz and Knupfer, 2012). This national context potentially exposes mothers who care for their children alone to a considerable amount of stress; while family care is framed as a private matter (Armingeon, 2001; Ballestri and Bonoli, 2003; Valarino and Bernardi, 2010), income returns from labour market participation are particularly disadvantageous for women.

In Switzerland, as in many other European countries, the socio-demographic characteristics of the population living in single-parent households have become more heterogeneous in the recent cohorts. More precisely, the age range at which women experience the transition to lone motherhood has become wider and the distribution of lone mothers across educational levels has increased. As a consequence, the picture of lone mothers' engagement in paid work has become more diverse (Struffolino and Bernardi, 2016).

We use data from the Swiss Household Panel and look at differences in self-reported health between employed and jobless lone mothers and mothers living with a partner. …

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