May 28 2014
Patrice J. Lee
Common thought has been that men and women go home to escape the pressure and stress of the office. Pick your favorite television show and you’ll find the common scene of a woman or man returning home from a long day at the office and sinking into a bath or their favorite chair with a drink to relax.
It appears a new study is challenging that assumption finding instead that workers, especially women, are coming to work to relax.
Published in the Journal of Science and Medicine, the study examined the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in workers throughout the day. They discovered that both men and women are significantly less stressed out at work than at home. The women they studied said they were happier at work, while men said they felt happier at home.
Furthermore, according to their findings people who work have better mental and physical health than those who don’t. This is especially true for women. Mothers who work steadily full-time in their 20s and 30s report better mental and physical health at age 45 than those who work part-time, stay home with children, or have been unemployed.
The Washington Post reports on this study and some of its implications:
But why do most people feel more stressed at home?
“Well, you just have a lot more going on,” [Sarah Damaske, a sociologist and women’s studies professor at Penn State and one of the report authors] said. “Trying to get anything done is a challenge.”
The findings are particularly disturbing. Stress and elevated levels of hormones like cortisol have been associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, inflammation and cancer, to name a few diseases…
But before you go off and think that parents, and mothers in particular, are heartless workaholics who prefer endless hours at the office or on the job to the joys of home and hearth, consider this key point: Both men and women were a lot less stressed out on the weekend – when they were home – than on the weekdays.
What does this tell you? It’s not so much that people prefer to be at work rather than at home or with kids. It’s that trying to do both in the same day is stressful. It’s the juggling that’s killing us.
And, although Damaske said their study findings are counter-intuitive, in some ways, truthfully, they’re entirely predictable. Think about it. Although gender roles have shifted far enough for women to go to work, they haven’t budged much for men to do more at home. So women not only shoulder about twice the housework and child care, they’re carrying the mental load of planning, organizing and keeping track of it all. So home, really, is just another demanding workplace.
There has been a big reversal of what have traditionally been gender roles over the past sixty + years. It used to be that men worked outside of the home and brought the bacon home to their women, who fried it up while taking care of the household and raising the children.
Starting with Baby Boomers down to Millennials, the roles are changing such that more women are in the workplace –in some instances as the sole breadwinner- while some men are the homemakers. It’s touched off conversations driven by books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and comments of other female business and political leaders about the role of women in the workplace.
However, according to the experts, the problem isn’t the role reversal isn’t necessarily a complete because many women are in the workplace from 9-5 but come home to juggle homemaker duties so that they never stop working.
Traditional feminism focused on being like men and treated like men. That is not balance and has perhaps contributed to the distorted roles we have today and the resulting stress women face.