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Working mothers are 40% more likely to suffer chronic stress

New research has found that biomarkers for chronic stress are 40 per cent higher in women bringing up two children while working full-time, highlighting the importance of reduced hours or flexible arrangements for those with families.

Researchers from Manchester University and the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University in the UK analysed data on 6,025 participants – adjusted for age, ethnicity, education, occupation and income – from the Understanding Society's UK Household Longitudinal Survey, which collects information on working life and readings of measures of stress response, including hormones levels and blood pressure.

It was found that the overall level of 11 biomarkers related to chronic stress, including stress-related hormones and blood pressure, was 40 per cent higher if women were working full-time while bringing up two children than it was among women working full-time with no children. 

Women working full-time and bringing up one child had 18 per cent higher level.

Women with two children who worked reduced hours through part-time work, job-sharing and term-time flexible working arrangements had chronic stress levels 37 per cent lower than those working in jobs where flexible work was not available. 

Those working flexible hours or working from home, with no overall reduction in working hours, had no reduction in chronic stress.

When considering male counterparts, the researchers found chronic stress markers were also lower if they worked reduced hours, and the effect was about the same as for women.

"Work-family conflict is associated with increased psychological strain, with higher levels of stress and lower levels of wellbeing," the researchers said in a statement. 

"Parents of young children are at particular risk of work-family conflict. Working conditions that are not flexible to these family demands, such as long working hours, could adversely impact on a person's stress reactions."

"Repeated stressful events arising from combinations of social and environmental stressors and major traumatic life events result in chronic stress, which in turn affects health."

"Flexible work practices are meant to enable employees to achieve a more satisfactory work-life balance which should reduce work-family conflict," added professor Tarani Chandola. 

"The use of such reduced hours [and] flexible work arrangements appeared to moderate some of the association of family and work stressors – but there was little evidence that flexplace or flextime working arrangements were associated with lower chronic stress responses."

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