Women struggling to make ends meet are at increased risk of heart attack
Yes, lifestyle and genetics are major factors in heart disease, but if you’re a woman struggling to pay the bills, they aren’t the only factors.
One recent study, looking at data from the Women’s Health Study, found financial stress, which is much more likely to affect women, especially those of color, can have a devastating effect on women’s hearts.
For the study, researchers analyzed stressful experiences from two groups of women, with one group having suffered a heart attack. Stressful life events included: being injured or losing a job. Three stressful life events, considered traumatic, included: a life-threatening illness, a serious assault, or the death of a child or spouse. A traumatic life event increased the risk of a heart attack by 65 percent.
Financial problems were the next most significant risk, with women in the midst of money woes having double the risk of a heart attack.
Women make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million workers in low-wage jobs, according According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Many of these jobs pay about $10.10 per hour, or $20,200 a year, if the work is full-time. This is “barely above the poverty line for a mother with two children,” the NWLC said in a report. Those jobs paying the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour net workers just $14,500 annually for full-time work.
“Working mothers are primary breadwinners in 41 percent of families with children, and they are co-breadwinners—bringing in between 25 percent and 50 percent of family earnings—in another 22 percent of these families,” according to the report. “At the same time, women still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities. And the characteristics of low-wage jobs pose particular challenges to women as both breadwinners and caregivers.”
In addition, women are negatively impacted by the wage gap, with full-time working women being paid only 78 cents for every dollar men make.
For women of color, financial stress is particularly troubling. The NWLC reports the following numbers from 2013, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men:
African-American women working full-time, year round were paid 64 cents.
Hispanic women were paid 56 cents.
Asian women were paid 79 cents.
And though the Affordable Care Act has helped make health insurance more accessible to all Americans, reducing some health disparities for the most vulnerable populations, women of color still have the most difficulty accessing health care. People of color are also much more likely to have chronic illnesses, especially illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which both have a strong relationship to heart disease. Throw in a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and fewer resources to manage stress, and it makes sense that we are more likely to stand out—and not in a good way—in the finances and heart health study.