Women's smoking and family health

Soc Sci Med. 1987;25(1):47-56. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(87)90206-1.


Women's smoking behaviour, and the smoking behaviour of mothers in particular, is becoming an important focus of research in the area of health and inequality. Smoking among women is linked to social disadvantage, with the highest rates among white women in working class households. Evidence is accumulating of the effects of women's smoking on their health and on the health of their children. Women's smoking behaviour is also implicated in the process of childhood socialisation into smoking, with mother's smoking attitudes and practices identified as powerful influences on children's smoking behaviour. Despite the emphasis on maternal smoking in epidemiological studies, little attention has been paid in psychological and social research to the experience of smoking in the context of poverty and motherhood. Drawing on a study of 57 women caring for pre-school children in low-income families, the article explores some of the complex links between women's poverty, caring and smoking. The study suggests that, for a significant minority of mothers, poverty and caring combine with low levels of physical and emotional energy, with sleep problems and with feelings of social isolation. In this context, smoking appeared to provide a way of coping with caring-in-poverty: a way of coping alone with the demands of full-time caring and with the struggle of making ends meet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Care
  • Family Health*
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Smoking*