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Stress in Employed Women: Impact of Marital Status and Children at Home on Neurohormone Output and Home Strain

Luecken, Linda J. MA; Suarez, Edward C. PhD; Kuhn, Cynthia M. PhD; Barefoot, John C. PhD; Blumenthal, James A. PhD; Siegler, Ilene C. PhD, MPH; Williams, Redford B. MD

Original Article

Objective To evaluate the biological and psychological effects of role overload, we examined the effects of marital (or partnership) status and parental status (defined as having children at home) on daily excretion of urinary catecholamines and cortisol in a sample of 109 employed women. Other measures included work and home strain, and social support.

Methods Urine collection was conducted on two consecutive workdays in three separate aliquots, a) overnight, b) daytime, and c) evening. Repeated-measures analysis of covariance with age and caffeine consumption as covariates was conducted on levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol in the three aliquots averaged across the 2 days.

Results We found a significant main effect of parental status on 24-hour cortisol excretion, (p<.01) such that women with at least one child living at home excreted significantly more cortisol, independent of marital status or social support. Women with children at home also reported higher home strain (p<.001) but not work strain. A significant period of day effect for catecholamine levels was found (norepinephrine, p<.001; epinephrine, p<.0001) with all subjects showing an increase during the workday and little or no decline in levels during the evening. Catecholamine levels were unrelated to marital status, parental status, or social support.

Conclusions These findings indicate that working women with children at home, independent of marital status or social support, excrete greater amounts of cortisol and experience higher levels of home strain than those without children at home.

From the Department of Psychiatry (L.J.L., E.C.S., J.C.B., J.A.B., I.C.S., R.B.W.), Behavioral Medicine Research Center, and Department of Pharmacology (C.M.K.), Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.

Address reprint requests to: E. C. Suarez, PhD, Duke University Department of Behavioral Medicine, 2212-F Elder St., Durham, NC 27707.

Received for publication October 5, 1995; revision received August 14, 1996.

Copyright © 1997 by American Psychosomatic Society
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