Risk Factors

The risk factors for single individuals for a variety of diseases are significantly higher than for married people. A recent study in the U.K. found that being single carries more risks for dying than does smoking. Researchers at Warwick University examined thousands of records from the British Household Panel Survey and British Retirement Survey and found that even after accounting for smoking, drinking, and other poor lifestyle factors, married men had a much lower risk of death (BBC Health, 2000). Over a 7-year period a married man's risk of death was reduced by 9% compared to that of a single man. Provisions for old age for single individuals also have serious implications for health-care policy. Wilson and Oswald (2002), in a comprehensive review of the longitudinal literature on effects of marriage on the physical and psychological health, came to the following conclusions:

1. Marriage makes people less likely to suffer depression and psychological problems,

2. Marriage makes people live longer,

3. Marriage makes people healthier,

4. The quality of the marriage and one's marital beliefs can increase or diminish these effects.

These observations have profound implications for our society as the numbers of single individuals remain as high as they are or continue to rise. A recent Australian study reported that both men and women are happier and healthier when married (de Vaus, 2002). Data were collected from 10,641 adults taken from the 1996 national survey of mental health in Australia. Results showed that one in four single women and men were miserable. One major finding of the study was that married women with children were the least likely to suffer mental health problems. Single mothers in Canada as well as the U.K. represent the most vulnerable as well as the poorest segment in both societies. We shall presently discuss their problems.

An examination of the Canadian family structure reveals patterns similar to those in Great Britain. Canada has also undergone a major transformation in its family structure over the past three or four decades (Conway, 2001). Single-parent families represented 11% of all families in the 1980s, which rose to 14.5% during the 1990s. During the same period, single-female parent families rose from 11% to 12%. They were also the poorest segment of all family types. An astonishing 69% of them were poor during the 1980s, and those figures rose by 15% in the 1990s.

A blended family (the marriage of two previously married individuals who often bring their children from their previous marriages in this new union, and then may have children in this marriage), a rather uncommon phenomenon in the earlier decades of the 20th century, became a relatively common type by the end. In 1967, only 12% of families were blended, which rose to 25% by 1997. This is a direct consequence of the meteoric rise in the rate of divorce and remarriage over the past 40 years. Apart from these larger trends in family composition, no discussion on this topic can be complete without addressing some family types that were either socially taboo or medically impossible not so long ago. These include children born to couples with fertility problems, gay couples with children, an increasing mix of interethnic and interreligious marriages, and so on. Families with adopted children fall into a category of their own.

Canadian Census 2001 data provide further confirmation of the ongoing changes in the family structure. Out of a total of 8.3 million families, 5.9 million were married, 1.1 million lived as common-law couples, and 1.3 million were single-parent families (Statistics Canada, 2001). A further 3 million were single-person households, which is in accord with trends observed in the U.K. The average number of children per family was 1.1, showing a steady decline in the birth rate over the past two decades. For the first time Statistics Canada provided data on gay couples. Of the 11 million households surveyed, 34,200, or 0.5% of all couples, stated that they were living in homosexual relationships.

Infertility affects 15% to 20% of all married couples in the United States (Hahn and DiPietro, 2001). There now exist a measurable body of literature examining various psychological, social, and family aspects of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). A recent study explored the quality of parenting, family functioning, and psychosocial adjustment in 54 IVF mother-child pairs and 59 mother-child pairs with children conceived naturally (Hahn and DiPietro, 2001). The results showed that IVF mothers were inclined to be more protective than natural mothers. Teachers who were not informed about which children were from IVF rated IVF mothers as displaying greater warmth but not showing overprotective or intrusive parenting behaviors toward their children. In contrast, IVF mothers expressed less satisfaction with aspects of family functioning. In general, the functioning of parents and children in both groups was more similar than dissimilar.

Pregnancy Nutrition

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