Research on the relationship between women's social roles and mental health has been equivocal. Although a greater number of roles often protect mental health, certain combinations can lead to strain. Our study explored the moderating affects of different role combinations on women's mental health by examining associations with socioeconomic status and differences in women's distress (depressive symptoms, personal stress (role strain) and chronic stress (role strain plus environmental stressors).
Women with children, whether single or partnered, had a higher risk of personal stress. Distress, stress and chronic stress levels of mothers, regardless of employment, or marital status, are staggeringly high. Single, unemployed mothers were significantly more likely than all other groups to experience financial stress and food insecurity. For partnered mothers, rates of personal stress and chronic stress were significantly lower among unemployed partnered mothers. Married and partnered mothers reported better mental health than their single counterparts. Lone, unemployed mothers were twice as likely to report a high level of distress compared with other groups. Lone mothers, regardless of employment status, were more likely to report high personal and chronic stress.
Data Gaps and Recommendations
National health surveys need to collect more data on the characteristics of women's work environment and their care giving responsibilities. Questions on household composition should include inter-generational households, same sex couples and multifamily arrangements. Data disaggregation by ethno-racial background would be helpful. Data should be collected on perceived quality of domestic and partnership roles and division of labours.