Combining care and work: Health and stress effects in male and female academics

  • Marrie H. J. Bekker
  • Peter F. de Jong
  • Fred R. H. Zijlstra
  • Bart A. J. van Landeghem


This study contributed to an explanation of mixed results (beneficial vs. detrimental health effects) in studies on multiple roles. We hypothesized that self-reported health in working parents might be good, whereas their heavy total workload might be reflected in relatively high scores on more unobtrusive stress measures. Participants were 54 university workers including a group with children (16 women and 18 men; mean age 39) and one without children (8 women and 12 men; mean age 34). Questionnaires were administered reflecting self-reported health and psychological stress responses (e.g., mood states, cognitive failures). In addition, a physiological measure of stress, cortisol in saliva, was taken. The group with children reported more psychological complaints than the group without children; no differences were found in number of somatic complaints. Women with children reported more negative mood states and cognitive failures than women without children; men with children manifested slightly less psychological stress than men without children. No systematic group differences were found regarding physiological stress. It was concluded that combining work and care coincides with relatively good self-reported health but clearly has a burden side, particularly in women, in terms of more unobtrusive psychological stress responses.

Key words

stress multiple roles work gender cognitive functioning mood states 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barnett, R. C., Marshall, N. L., & Singer, J. D. (1992). Job experiences over time, multiple roles, and women’s health: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 634–644.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Better, M. H. J. (1997). Combining work and motherhood: Is Utopia becoming true? In A. Van Lenning, M. H. J. Bekker, & I. Vanwesenbeeck (Eds.), Feminist Utopias in a postmodern era (pp. 67–80). Tilburg, The Netherlands: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Better, M. H. J. (1999). Werk en zorg gecombineerd m/v: Stress, gezondheid, welbevinden [Multiple roles m/f: Stress, health, well-being]. De Psycholoog, 34, 126–133.Google Scholar
  4. Better, M. H. J., Gjerdingen, D. K., Lundberg, U., & McGovern, P. (1999). Multiple roles: Health protection or health risk? In A. M. Kolk, M. H. J. Bekker, & K. P. van Vliet (Eds.), Advanced studies in women and health research; Toward gender-sensitive strategies (pp. 103–121). Tilburg, Netherlands: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blechman, E. A., & Brownell, K. D. (1998). Behavioral medicine and women. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  6. Broadbent, D. E., Cooper, P. F., FitzGerald, P., & Parkes, K. R. (1982). The CFQ and its correlates. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 21, 1–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Caplan, R. D., Cobb, S., & French, J. R. P. (1979). White collar work load and cortisol. Disruption of a circadian rhythm by job stress? Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 23, 181–192.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cluydts, R. J. G. (1979). Gemoedstoestanden en slaap [Mood states and sleep]. Brussels: Vrije Universiteit.Google Scholar
  9. Crosby, F. J., (1991). Juggling: The unexpected advantages of balancing career and home for women and their families. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  10. Derogatis, L. R., Lipman, R. S., Rickels, K., Uhlenhuth, & Covi, L. (1974). The Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL): A self-report symptom inventory. Behavioral Science, 19, 1–15.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eckenrode, J., & Gore, S. (1990). Stress between work and family. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  12. Fischer, C. S., & Oliker, S. J. (1983). A research note on friendship, gender, and life cycle. Social Forces, 62, 124–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frankenhaeuser, M., Lundberg, U., Fredrikson, M., Melin, B., Tuomisto, M., Myrsten, A. L., Hedman, M., Bergman-Losman, B., & Wallin, L. (1989). Stress on and off the job as related to sex and occupational status in white-collar workers. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 10, 321–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hibbard, J., & Pope, C. R. (1986). Another look at sex differences in the use of medical care: Illness orientation and the types of morbidities for which services are used. Women and Health, 11, 21–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  16. Kahn, R. L. (1991). The forms of women’s work. In M. Frankenhaeuser, U. Lundberg, & M. Chesney (Eds.), Women, work and health: Stress and opportunities (pp. 65–83). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  17. Kirschbaum, C., & Hellhammer, D. (1989). Salivary cortisol in psychobiological research: An overview. Neuropsychobiology, 22, 150–169.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kirschbaum, C., & Hellhammer, D. (1994). Salivary cortisol in psychoneuroendocrine research: Recent developments and applications. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 19, 313–333.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kotler, P., & Wingard, D. (1989). The effect of occupational, marital, and parental roles on mortality: The Alameda study. American Journal of Public Health, 79, 607.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lambert S. J. (1990). Process linking work and family: A critical review and research agenda. Human Relations, 43, 239–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lennon, M. C. (1994). Women, work, and well-being: The importance of work conditions. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 235–247.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Levy, R. (1976). Psychosomatic symptoms and women’s protest: Two types of reaction to structural strain in the family. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 17, 122–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Luteijn, F., Hamel, L. F., Bouwman, T. K., & Kok, A. R. (1984). HSCL; Hopkins Symptom Checklist; Handleiding [Manual]. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  24. Luecken, L. J., Edward, C. S., Kuhn, C. M., Barefoot, J. C., Blumenthal, J. A., Siegler, I. C., & Williams, R. B. (1997). Stress in employed women: Impact of marital status and children at home on neurohormone output and home strain. Psychosomatic Medicine, 59, 352–359.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Lundberg, U. (1996). Influence of paid and unpaid work on psychophysiological stress responses of men and women. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 117–130.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lundberg, U., & Frankenhaueser, M. (1999). Stress and workload of men and women in high-ranking positions. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 4, 1–10.Google Scholar
  27. Ockenfells, M. C., Porter, L., Smyth, J., & Kirschbaum. (1995). Effect of chronic stress associated with unemployment on salivary cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, 57, 460–467Google Scholar
  28. Marcus, A. C., & Siegel, J. M. (1982). Sex differences in the use of physician services: A preliminary test of the fixed role hypothesis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 23, 186–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McGonagle, K. A., & Kessler, R. C. (1990). Chronic stress, acute stress, and depressive symptoms. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 681–706.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McNair, D. M., Lorr, M., & Droppleman, L. F. (1971). Manual for the Profile of Mood States. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.Google Scholar
  31. Nathanson, C. A. (1980). Social roles and health status among women: The significance of employment. Social Science and Medicine, 14, 463–471.Google Scholar
  32. Oakley, A. (1974). Housewife. Aylesbury: Watson & Viney.Google Scholar
  33. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (1993). Women, work and health. Synthesis report of a panel of experts. Paris (General Distribution).Google Scholar
  34. Repetti, R. L. (1989). Effects of daily workload on subsequent behavior during marital interactions: The role of social withdrawal and spouse support. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 651–659.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Repetti, R. L. (1993). Short-term effects of occupational stressors on daily mood and spouse support. Health Psychology, 12, 125–131.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau (SCP)/Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS). (1997). Sociale Atlas van de Vrouw. Deel 4. Veranderingen in de primaire leefsfeer [Women’s social atlas. Part 4. Changes in the pirmary life domain]. Niphuis-Nell (Red.). Rijswijk: CBS/Den Haag: Vuga.Google Scholar
  38. Tijd en Ruimte voor Arbeid en Zorg [Time and space for work and care.]. Den Haag, The Netherlands: Vuga.Google Scholar
  39. Taylor, S. E. (1995). Health psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  40. Thoits, P. A. (1986). Multiple identities and psychological well-being. A reformulation and test of the social isolation hypothesis. American Sociological Review, 48, 174–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wald, F. D. M., & Mellenbergh, G. J. (1990). De verkorte versie van de Nederlandse vertaling van de Profile of Mood States (POMS) [The shortened version of the Dutch translation of the Profile of Mood States (POMS).] Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Psychologie en haar Grensgebieden, 45, 86–90.Google Scholar
  42. Waldron, I., & Jacobs, J. A. (1989). Effects of multiple roles on women’s health-Evidence from a national longitudinal study. Women and Health, 15, 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wortman, C., Biernat, M., & Lang, E. (1984). Coping with role overload. In M. Frankenhaeuser, U. Lundberg, & M. Chesney (Eds.), Women, work and health: Stress and opportunities (pp. 85–110). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marrie H. J. Bekker
    • 1
  • Peter F. de Jong
    • 2
  • Fred R. H. Zijlstra
    • 1
  • Bart A. J. van Landeghem
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Clinical Health Psychology/ Department of Women’s StudiesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of EducationUniversity of AmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.St. Elisabeth HospitalTilburgThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations