Honors Study

Single Motherhood: Health and Insurance Vulnerability

Kurt M. Kunz
HPA Schreyer Scholar


The objective of this study is to provide a descriptive analysis of the situation of single mothers in the United States as a vulnerable population. This research will attempt to document and identify factors and reasons for this vulnerability, comparing the population of single mothers to married mothers and single women without children. Data for this study were taken from the Household Component of the 2005 Medical Expenditures Panel Survey. Differences in family income, age, health insurance status, and health care expenditures between the population subgroups were examined through frequency distributions. Regression was used to observe the relationship between variables and account for differences attributable to confounding factors. Two out of three single mothers were found in poor or low-income families, while approximately two-thirds of single women without children and married women with children were in families with middle to high-income. Nearly two out of three poor single mothers were covered by public insurance. Income displayed a strong influence on insurance status; only 17.9% of poor single mothers were privately insured, compared to 48% of low-income and 79% of middle to high-income single mothers. At higher levels of income, as individuals are no longer eligible for public insurance, single mothers display the highest uninsured rates. Despite similarities in out-of-pocket expenditures, total expenditures for privately and publicly insured women were significantly higher than for uninsured women; this suggests that the uninsured are likely to incur the greatest financial burden as a share of their overall health spending. In the context of the weakening economy in the United States, it seems likely that the financial impact in the realm of health care will be especially severe for single mothers, who are particularly dependent on public insurance and disproportionally found at low income levels where lack of insurance is common.