This study examines the impact of work stress on working mothers’ health during the first three years after having a child.
This research addressed the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) priority area of Work Environment and Workforce: Organization of Work, with funding from the National Institute on Aging, for secondary analysis of existing data to examine the relationship between the organization of work and women’s post-partum health.
Maternal employment rose dramatically over the second half of the 20th century. While employment has had positive effects for women and for their families, working mothers of young children continue to face specific health risks. Women are susceptible to the same health risks as men related to poor job quality and working long hours. However, women continue to spend more time than do men on housework and child care in the family, and face additional health risks associated with combining these family demands with employment.
With more than half of all mothers of infants returning to work within the first three months postpartum, understanding women’s postpartum health requires an examination of both family factors and work factors, as well as the work-family interface.
This study examined work and family characteristics and depressive symptomatology among over 700 working mothers of infants, from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD SECCYD), a prospective longitudinal study of 1,364 families from 10 sites around the United States. Working mothers in poorer quality jobs, as well as working mothers who were single or whose infant’s health was poorer than that of other infants, reported greater depressive symptomatology. The effect of job quality on depressive symptomatology was mediated by work-family conflict, whereas infant health and marital status had direct effects on depressive symptomatology. Complete results of this study are available in:
Marshall, N. L. & Tracy, A.J.. (2009). After the baby: Work-family conflict and working mothers’ psychological health. Family Relations, 58, 379-390.
Addressing the impact of these factors on working mothers’ health requires action from a variety of directions. First, the trend of fathers’ increasing time in parenting is positive; as men become more involved in the day-to-day family care and housework, the demands on working mothers should be lessened. However, change is also warranted in the workplace and in government policy. While some employers are increasing efforts to become more family-friendly, greater availability of paid sick leave for the care of sick children and other accommodations for working mothers of infants would likely reduce the stress of combining employment with caring for an infant. In addition, some families would benefit from access to paid parental leave. The current U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act is limited, providing only three months unpaid leave (“Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993,” 1993). Changes in public and private parental leave policies that provided more time off and provided paid leave would also support the health of working mothers of infants.