Stay-at-home moms have the hardest job

Women who stay at home raising children are more likely than working mothers to have symptoms of depression, a new study finds.

But working mothers who strongly believe they should be able to have fulfilling and successful work and family lives are probably setting themselves up for disappointment too. The study found that those working women with a “supermom” complex are more likely to feel frustration and guilt compared to working mothers who expect difficulties balancing work and family life.

The research was presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Assn. in Las Vegas.

“Women who expect it’s going to be hard and are employed nevertheless have better mental health outcomes,” said the study’s author, Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student. “Work-family conflict is much more likely to bring about feelings of guilt for women as compared to men -- guilt for the things you can’t do.”


Leupp analyzed data from 1,600 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth as young adults and answered questions about their beliefs and expectations of work-family life. When the women were 40, Leupp measured their levels of depression.

The findings on stay-at-home mothers support other research that shows working outside the home is good for a woman’s mental health. Stay-at-home moms may have higher levels of depression because they want to be employed but find the cost of childcare too high to make a job worthwhile.

Conversely, working mothers with a supermom attitude may have depressive feelings because they anticipated their spouses or partners would do more household and childcare chores than they actually do, Leupp said in an interview.

“There may be a sense of injustice,” she said.

Since the 1970s, more women have joined the workforce, Leupp noted, and more young women today can look to their own mothers as role models for balancing work and family life.

That could help women have more realistic attitudes about the need to let some things slide instead of trying to “have it all,” she said.

“For women, the message is ‘be gentle with yourself,’ ” she said. “Accept that if the balance between work and family feels hard, it’s because it is. It’s not because you’re not successful.”

Employers and governments could help with the work-family balance by offering more accommodating policies, Leupp said.

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