Search icon


26th Oct 2020

Mums are more stressed at home than in work, researchers find

Do you agree with these findings, mamas?

Trine Jensen-Burke

I vividly remember going back to work – in a brand new job in a glossy, Norwegian interior magazine – when my little girl was one.

I had been lucky enough to enjoy a 12-month maternity leave, and now? Now I felt more than ready to return to work. To enjoy editorial meetings and adult conversation and using my professional skills again. But I was also feeling all sorts of nervous (and sad too) to leave my baby for a full seven hours a day for the first time ever.

For that last year, my days had been filled with feeding and changing and tidying and walking and pretty much just ensuring I kept my baby alive and the house in a tidy(ish) condition, and now I was going to not only be away from the nest for large chunks of the day (and do my job well), I would still also have to do my part of the work at home once my day at the office was over.

There is a lot of talk about how stressful it can be for parents to combine a full-time job with family life, with many experts and studies claiming we are all stressed to the nines at all times. But often, the focus has been on work being the stress-inducer here, not life at home.

However, in a study from Penn State University, researchers examined women’s and men’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol during the week and – interestingly – found that women have higher stress levels at home than at work – and report feeling happier at work.

In comparison, men too, feel more stressed at home than at the office, but also report feeling happier at home than women did. It is important to point out that it appears it is not our children that make us feel stressed, as women without children are particularly prone to higher stress at home, but parents on the whole—both mums and dads—report feeling better on the job than at home.

This might be good news for working mums in a way, says Working Mother magazine, as the study might suggest that work is a necessary part of the life-happiness equation. But – it also serve as an important reminder of how much more stressful home life, can be for women, particularly mums—who may still have a bigger “second shift” of chores and/or child care than men do.

A solution, according to co-study author Sarah Damaske, an assistant professor of labour and employment relations at Penn State, could be that companies adopt more family-friendly policies – so that mums can continue benefiting from being employed while still being able to meet family responsibilities. “Telecommuting, paid sick days, paternity and maternity leaves are all policies that make it easier for workers to retain the health benefits of employment and for companies to retain the financial benefits of having loyal employees rather than having to deal with constant job turnover,” Damaske said.