New research has discovered that a person’s job — and how society views it — can create additional psychological baggage for some parents.
The study, from researchers at the University of Iowa, found that parents who hold jobs viewed by society as aggressive, weak, or impersonal are likely to be more stressed than parents whose occupations are seen in a light similar to parenting — good, strong, and caring.
“We know that one source of stress for parents is the time and energy bind,” said Mark Walker, a doctoral student in sociology at the university.
“But what I wanted to examine was the extent to which discrepancy between the cultural meanings of a person’s occupational and parental identities could impact the psychological well-being of working parents. What we found is, in fact, it does.”
“I think the research is important in that it gives a name to something that I think many working parents experience but couldn’t quite put a finger on,” continued Walker, who presented his study at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“I think identifying the issue as a social problem rather than an individual one — or even worse, an imaginary problem — could be helpful to working parents in and of itself.”
The premise for the study was that for every role people play in their lives — be it parent, church member, or professor — there is an identity. And attached to that identity is a “cultural meaning,” which is how society views that identity, he explained.
“We use cultural information to define those identities,” he said. “How people treat us and react to us is based on that cultural information.”
For his study, Walker merged data on the cultural sentiments attached to parental and occupational identities with a traditional large-scale survey on work-family conflict and came up with a three-dimensional graph on which various occupations were plotted.
He discovered that people are often skeptical about the abilities of parents whose occupations seemingly do not align with being a mother or a father.
Occupations that create more psychological baggage include attorney, salesperson, laborer, receptionist, police officer, and politician. Those that align better with parenting include teacher, physician, registered nurse, principal, and professor, according to the study’s findings.
“If a person is constantly met with skepticism, he or she can begin to feel stressed because that skepticism will take a toll over time,” he said. “Those parents are always swimming upstream trying to convince people they are, for example, a legitimate parent or a legitimate attorney.”
The study has the potential to help shape policy and workplace changes designed to reduce the psychological strain of juggling the roles of parent and worker, according to Walker.
“If employers are aware that working parents in a given occupation are more at risk of experiencing psychological strain, they could potentially provide more targeted mental health resources for those in ‘at risk’ occupations,” he concluded.