STUDY OBJECTIVE: To study trends in the health and socioeconomic circumstances of lone mothers in Sweden over the years 1979-1995, and to make comparisons with couple mothers over the same period. DESIGN: Analysis of data from the annual Survey of Living Conditions (ULF), conducted by Statistics Sweden from 1979-1995. Comparison of demographic, socioeconomic and health status of lone and couple mothers and how these have varied over the 17 years of the study. Main outcome measures include prevalence of self perceived general health and limiting longstanding illness. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: All lone mothers (n = 2776) and couple mothers (n = 16,935) aged 16 to 64 years in a random sample of the Swedish population in a series of cross sectional surveys carried out each year between 1979 and 1995. MAIN RESULTS: The socioeconomic conditions of lone mothers deteriorated during the period 1979-1995, with increasing unemployment and poverty rates. Lone mothers had worse health status than couple mothers throughout the period. In comparison with the first two periods, the prevalence of less than good health increased among both lone and couple mothers from the late 1980s onwards. For lone and couple mothers who were poor, their rates of less than good health were similar in the early 1980s, but in 1992-95 poor lone mothers were significantly more likely to report less than good health than poor couple mothers. Unemployed lone mothers had particularly high rates of ill health throughout the study period. CONCLUSIONS: As in other European countries, lone mothers are emerging as a vulnerable group in society in Sweden, especially in the economic climate of the 1990's. While they had very low rates of poverty and high employment rates in the 1980s, their situation has deteriorated with the economic recession of the 1990's. The health status of lone mothers, particularly those who are unemployed or poor, appears worse than that of couple mothers and in some circumstances may be deteriorating. Further study is needed to elucidate the mechanisms mediating their health disadvantage compared with couple mothers.
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