Combining work and motherhood is good for women's health

Life course social roles and women's health in mid-life: Causation or selection? J Epidemiol Community Health 2006; 60: 484-9

Holding down a job and being a mum in a steady relationship helps keep women healthy and in good shape over the long term, suggests research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

A career as a homemaker seems to increase the chances of becoming obese, indicates the research.

The authors base their findings on data from women participants in the Medical Research Council National Study of Health and Development. This tracks the long term health of British men and women born in 1946 throughout their life.

Health at the age of 26 and in mid life at the age of 54 was assessed using a validated questionnaire.

Information about the women's employment history, marital status, and whether they had had children was also collected for every decade from the age of 26. Their weight and height were also measured at regular intervals.

Analysis of the information showed that by the age of 54 women who had been partners, parents, and employees were significantly less likely to report ill health than women who did not fulfil all three roles.

Women who had been home-makers for all or most of their lives, and had not held down a job, were most likely to say their health was poor, followed by lone mothers and childless women.

Women who had worked during several periods of their lives were less likely to be obese than women who had rarely worked. Weight gain tended to occur at a faster rate among the homemakers.

Obesity was most common among the long term homemakers (38%) and least common among women who had fulfilled all three roles (23%).

These findings were not explained by the women's earlier health nor did health status in early life influence whether the women became employees, wives, or mothers.

The authors conclude that good health among women is more likely to be the result, rather than the cause, of adopting several roles.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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