'Doing It All' Not Harmful To Women's Health

September 11, 1998

Women who juggle the roles of wife, parent, and employee generally suffer no ill effects on their health compared with other women, according to the results of a 10-year study.

"Employment and marriage (both) have generally beneficial effects on women's health, probably because both employment and marriage can provide benefits such as increased income and social support," Ingrid Waldron, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania report in the September Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The researchers observed no "particularly harmful effects for employed women with many children or for mothers who were employed full-time."

The investigators analyzed information on marital status, employment, parenthood, and health symptoms for 3,331 young women who were interviewed in 1978, 1983, and 1988. They obtained the data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience and used a variety of statistical techniques to assess the influence of various factors on the women's health.

Both marriage and employment were associated with better health trends, Waldron and her colleagues found. Employment had more beneficial effects for women who were not married, and marriage had more beneficial effects for women who were not employed.

"It appears," Waldron said, "that employment and marriage can substitute for each other in providing benefits, such as increased income or social support, which contribute to better health."

Parenthood had different effects on women's health, depending on their individual characteristics. Women who gave birth as teenagers, for example, had greater health difficulties over the course of the study.

"Young age at birth may contribute to long-term socioeconomic disadvantages and persistent problems for the children in these families, resulting in harmful health effects for the mothers," Waldron and colleagues write.

The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a peer-reviewed quarterly publication of the American Sociological Association. For information about the Journal, contact its editor, John Mirowsky, (614) 688-8673.

Posted by the Center for the Advancementof Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert rhebert@cfah.org (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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