Warning: Home life may be hazardous to your health

A new study suggests that working mothers face higher stress after work -- and greater health risks -- than other working women.

By Salon Staff

Published August 1, 1997 12:14PM (EDT)

in the latest chapter in the endless debate over whether working mothers can have it all, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have reported that working mothers are, at least, experiencing more stress. In a study of 109 working mothers and nonmothers, which was published last week in Psychosomatic Medicine, the Duke researchers reported that stress hormone levels in employed mothers rise each morning and stay high until bedtime, putting them at greater risk than other working women for health problems such as heart attacks. The study showed increased excretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which is related to distress and lack of personal control, and higher levels of catecholamines, which are associated with effort or activity. (Other studies have shown that men experience a drop in catecholamines when they come home from work.) The study also found that the higher stress levels in working mothers exist regardless of number of children, marital status or -- in contrast to other studies -- social support.

Ironically, although the study's lead author, Linda Luecken, noted that researchers believe the increased stress in employed mothers "is related to strain at home, rather than work strain," she also warned that we should resist the temptation "to consider this as evidence that mothers should not work outside the home" until further studies compare stress levels in working and nonworking mothers. It was left to her male colleague, Redford Williams, M.D., chief of behavioral medicine at Duke and primary investigator for the study, to take a broader view. "Maybe the only way to reduce the burden on these working mothers is to share it, to more equally divide the home responsibility," said Williams.

Do you think working mothers are more stressed out at home than working fathers? Are they more stressed out than mothers -- or fathers -- who stay at home? Do you and your mate equally divide home responsibilities? Discuss in Table Talk.

Salon Staff

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