Does the psychosocial quality of unpaid family work contribute to educational disparities in mental health among employed partnered mothers?

  • Bonnie Janzen
  • Laurie-ann M. Hellsten
Original Article



The contribution of unpaid family work quality to understanding social inequalities in women’s mental health has been understudied and further limited by a scarcity of psychometrically sound instruments available to measure family work. Therefore, using a multi-item scale of family work quality with evidence of validity and reliability, the overall aim of the present study was to determine whether psychosocial qualities of unpaid family work contribute to educational inequities in women’s mental health.


Study participants in this cross-sectional study were 512 employed partnered mothers living in a Canadian province and recruited from an online research panel. The dependent variable was psychological distress. In addition to a 28-item measure assessing five dimensions of unpaid family work quality, independent variables included material deprivation, job decision latitude, job demands and several measures of the work–family interface. Multiple linear regression was the primary analysis.


Compared to women with high school or less, university educated women reported lower psychological distress [b = − 2.23 (SE = 0.50) p = 0.001]. The introduction of material deprivation into the model resulted in the largest reduction to the education disparity (51%), followed by equity in responsibility for unpaid family work (25%), family-to-work facilitation (22%), and decision latitude in paid work (21%). When entered simultaneously into the final model, the association between education and psychological distress was reduced by 70% and became statistically non-significant [b = − 0.68 (SE = 0.47) p = 0.10].


In addition to the more established mechanisms of material conditions and decision latitude to explain mental health disparities, inequity in responsibility for unpaid family work may also play a role.


Women’s health Unpaid family work Work stress Mental health 



This was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (funding reference number: 79338). The authors would like to thank Dr. Prosanta Mondal for his statistical advice during manuscript revision.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Saskatchewan Behavioral Review Board (Beh# 06-230) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

420_2018_1310_MOESM1_ESM.docx (58 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 57 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, College of MedicineUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education, College of EducationUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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