Work as Refuge? Working Mothers Report Better Health

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

I love it when my job intersects with the rest of my life.

NPR is reporting Tuesday about a fascinating survey that found that women who work full time “reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who part time.” They heard from more than 2,500 mothers in the 2012 survey.

In addition, people appear to be more stressed at home than they are at work.

Oh, and mothers who worked part time said they enjoyed better health than their counterparts who didn’t work at all.

Really? As the mother of two children who worked part time for several years before taking this job, I was all-in on this story. Could I really be enjoying peak health while working full time and — yes — still raising those kids. (Disclosure that my husband does help: Thanks, dear!)

NPR pointed out that one explanation could be self-selection. From the story:

Mothers who were in better health to begin with may have chosen to work regularly. Researchers Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, who conducted the 2012 study, also found that moms who worked steadily had other advantages. They were more likely to have grown up with two married parents, more likely to have completed high school and more likely to be in a stable relationship before the birth of their first child.

Those last three items are true for me.

In a separate study of 122 working folks, both men and women, Damaske had volunteers collect saliva samples during the day. Researchers then measured the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

The levels were fine during the day — and spiked when the people got home.

Low-income people and those without children were especially likely to report lower levels of the stress hormone when they were at work.

Damaske has new research that sheds light on another factor that might be in play:

It’s a factor that sociologists such as [UC Berkeley's] Arlie Hochschild and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud have examined in the past. Hochschild, for one, found that many people find work to be less stressful than their home lives. Work was, in fact, a haven. Freud once said work and love were two wellsprings of emotional satisfaction in life.

Damaske also pointed out that work can be less stressful “because we are emotionally entangled at home in a way that we aren’t at work.”

Um, yes. I admit to being more emotionally entangled at home than I am at work.

More from NPR:

Damaske said the study offered a different window into why women who work steady jobs might experience better physical and mental health than those who work part time, or not at all. It is still possible that women who are healthier to begin with are more likely to hold steady jobs, but Damaske said it might also be the case that work had positive effects on women’s health.

Last week NPR published the results of its nationwide poll on stress — and reported that “juggling busy family schedules” ranked right up there as a top source of stress for many people — other sources were the death of a loved one and health problems.

So why are tough jobs and difficult bosses such a common topic of conversation? Damaske told NPR that it could be because it’s more socially acceptable to complain about work than to discuss health problems or troubles at home.

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