Juggling work and family keeps you healthier, says study

May 15 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

It is said staying home as a mum and bringing up a family is one of the toughest jobs there is – but getting out of the house and holding down a job at the same time may actually be better for your health, according to latest medical research.

A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has concluded that holding down a job and being a mum in a steady relationship can keep women healthier and in better shape over the long term than their counterparts who stay at home.

A career as a "homemaker" can in fact increase the chances of becoming obese, suggested the research.

The authors based their findings on data from women studied by the Medical Research Council in its National Study of Health and Development.

This has been tracking the long-term health of 1,200 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 collected for every decade from the age of 26.

Their weight and height were also measured at regular intervals.

Women who had been home-makers for all or most of their lives were most likely to say their health was poor

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 per cent) and least common among women who had fulfilled all three roles (23 per cent).

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, said the journal.

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

Lead researcher Dr Anne McMunn at University College London said the study proved that women "could have it all".

She said: "Women who combine work with children and marriage do have better health. While it may be stressful for them at the time, their long-term health is better when they have a combination of roles."

Older Comments

Maybe it's because working moms need to be more 'conscious' of how they look since they face different sets of people every day?

Melissa Petri Frankfurt, Germany

Parents need flexible working policies. The rewards these bring for employers are huge. Improved recruitment and retention, higher productivity and motivation. Crayon Generation supports working parents within companies by providing 'lunchtime informative sessions' on every aspect of parenting, schooling and balancing work and life. These are a fantastic way in which companies can support their staff. I believe achieving a healthy work/life balance is one of the most difficult challenges employees face so they need some help from their bosses. Companies need to encourage their staff to work reasonable hours. Our lunchtime events are being 'snapped' up; all companies should ensure they provide such support. It really, really pays for both employers and their staff.

Margaret Travers