Office Stress, Large Family Responsibilities Put Women At Risk

March 22, 1999

The combination of high job stress and large family responsibilities spells significant and persistent increases in blood pressure for white-collar women who hold a university degree, a new Canadian study shows. And unlike men, their elevated blood pressure persists at home after working hours.

In the Canadian study, it was only among white-collar women who have university degrees that a significant association was observed between blood pressure and stress on the job and at home.

"The effect of this double exposure on the blood pressure of university women seems to be the sum of both effects, on the job and at home," says Chantal Brisson, Ph.D., who headed the team of scientists from several Quebec City research institutes. "We found the increase was present through work, evening, and night, suggesting a persistent effect beyond the work setting."

The Quebec scientists point out that by contrast, earlier research found that men's blood pressure tends to decrease in the evening after work. The study results are reported in the March issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The research team selected a random stratified sample of 199 women from a group of 2,183 of all ages employed full-time in white collar jobs at all levels in Quebec City.

The women in the sample wore monitors that took readings for 24 hours of diastolic and systolic blood pressure every 15 minutes during the day and evening hours and every 30 minutes between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.. The data were correlated with diaries in which each woman noted her physical activity and any stressful events before and at the time of each blood pressure reading.

Before participating, the women completed a questionnaire on job strain (exposure to high psychological demands and little latitude in making decisions) and large family responsibilities (having children and performing a high volume and proportion of housework.)

The researchers found that two or more children significantly contributed to increased blood pressure, but one child did not. The proportion of housework performed by the women in combination with the volume of housework they did had a significant effect on their blood pressure.

The research was supported by grants from the National Health Research and Development Program of Canada, the Medical Research Council of Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Quebec, and the Saint-Sacrement Hospital Foundation.
Psychosomatic Medicine is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, published bimonthly. For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, M.D., editor-in-chief, at 619-543-5468.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, contact Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.


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