Study Says Working Moms Stress Out Their Mates.

If you’re a working woman and you have a husband, did you know you’re literally killing him with stress?




According to an unbelievable paper from a Harvard University researcher – which I first spotted referenced on The Juggle web site -- women who dare to leave the cozy confines of all things domestic and work outside the home are selfishly hurting their men by subjecting them to undo stress. No, I’m not kidding. Here, I’ll quote from the abstract of the paper, “Work, Stress and Health: Some Adverse Effects of Female Labor Force Participation:”


“This paper finds a strong positive correlation between female labor force participation and negative health outcomes for middle-aged men and women, and suggests that this correlation is mediated by household-level stress. At the cross-country aggregate level, I show that labor force participation of women is associated with increased mortality rates among both men and women. At the individual level, I find that married men whose spouses work are more likely to die within 10 years, to have high blood pressure and to self-report worse health outcomes.”



While I was sitting in stunned amazement after reading this introduction, my husband mused aloud, “So, you’re killing me and you’re killing you?”


I labored my way through the paper and discovered these gems:


  • “. . . I find that the probability of death of middle-aged married men is higher among employed men whose spouses work, compared to employed men whose spouses are homemakers.”


  • “When women enter the labor force, the work-life balance becomes considerably more challenging for both women and men, subjecting them to higher levels of chronic stress. The evidence in this paper strongly suggests that it is stress which is the primary mediating factor between female labor force participation and male health.”


  • “. . . I find that female participation is associated with increased male mortality, primarily from heart disease.”


  • “Taken as a whole, the data present a compelling and consistent picture: female participation in the labor force is associated with negative health outcomes for employed married men.”


After I picked myself up off the floor, I wondered what the researcher would recommend to remedy this clearly life-threatening situation for

America ’s married fellows. Does he think all married women should, en masse, quit their jobs, forget about on-ramping if they’re at-home parents and simply cede all career aspirations to their husbands and live vicariously through them? Would that reduce everyone’s stress and help those in two-parent households to have long, healthy and happy lives?


Amy S. you are spot on. I would like to see this same study done on French parents who receive 11 wks of vacation, subsidized child care, free health care, 35-hour work weeks, AND generous maternity/paternity leave. What about the effect of working dads on infants or the stress on moms who do the ol' double duty?


I'd be interested to see a study of the stress levels and health effects seen in families in which the mother is the primary wage earner and the father is either a homemaker or a work-from-home dad. Oh, sorry, we can't do that study because we don't have a large enough group from which to pull statistically significant data. My mistake.

Seriously. Families in which both parents work outside of the home experience more stress-related health problems. That's not a shock. But it takes two working parents to have that situation, so half of the blame ought to be on the Negative Effects of Male Workforce Participation.


How about a man might have less stress if his wife works because he knows it isn't the end of the world if he loses his job. Or he might be able to pursue a career where he makes less money if his wife works or he can take time off to pursue a dream if the entire burden of income is not on him.

Working Mom to 3


Since heart-related issues are now the number one killer of women, something is definitely going on. Especially since these heart-related issues are now the number one killer of women below the age of 45! I'd love to be a stay-at-home wife, but we're in the two-income trap and it will be at least five years before we can work ourselves out of it.


Ultimately, I think this paper and others (like the one that blames working mothers for childhood obesity) will be helpful in revolutionizing the workplace. There's no denying that juggling the unreasonable demands of family and the workplace bring unhealthy consequences (increased stress, reliance on convenience foods, increased juvenile delinquency) for today's families. But the culprit is NOT working mothers themselves, but today's corporate culture and its extreme work environment. The solution is not to have women leave the workforce in droves (although some are "opting out" because they're tired of the insanity that juggling entails) -- with more than 70% of mothers in the workforce, our economy would come to a grinding halt -- but to change corporate culture to offer more flexibility and support to our families so that both men and women can contribute to their families and their companies in a healthy and productive way. We need to connect the dots for lawmakers and for corporations about the very real consequences of having a family unfriendly America.

Judy Johnston

Your sense of humor is admirable and adds to your excellent writing. Perhaps we could persuade you to author the counterpoint paper: Some Positive Effects of Female Workforce Participation? I am sure if we look hard enough we can unearth a few!