Biological indications for chronic stress are 40% higher in women bringing up two children while working full-time compared with colleagues with no children.
Furthermore, working from home or working flexible hours have no effect on their level of chronic stress – only putting in fewer hours at work helps, according to an article in the journal Sociology.
Prof Tarani Chandola of the University of Manchester and Dr Cara Booker, Prof Meena Kumari and Prof Michaela Benzeval at the University of Essex analysed data from 6,025 participants, collecting information on their working lives and readings of measures of stress response, including hormone levels and blood pressure.
They found that the level of 11 “biomarkers” related to chronic stress was 40% higher if women were working full-time while bringing up two children than it was among women working full-time with no children. Women working full time and raising one child had an 18% higher level.
“Work-family conflict is associated with increased psychological strain, with higher levels of stress and lower levels of wellbeing,” said the researchers. “Parents of young children are at particular risk of work-family conflict. Working conditions that are not flexible to these family demands, such as long working hours, could adversely impact on a person’s stress reactions.
“Repeated stressful events arising from combinations of social and environmental stressors and major traumatic life events result in chronic stress, which in turn affect health.”
The research also found that women with two children who worked reduced hours through part-time work, job share and term-time flexible working arrangements had chronic stress levels 37% lower than those working in jobs where this was not available.
However, those working flexitime or working from home, with no reduction in working hours, had no reduction in chronic stress.
“Flexible work practices are meant to enable employees to achieve a more satisfactory work-life balance which should reduce work-family conflict,” said Prof Chandola. “The use of such reduced hours flexible work arrangements appeared to moderate some of the association of family and work stressors – but there was little evidence that ‘flexiplace’ or flexitime working arrangements were associated with lower chronic stress responses.”