Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Influence of the 'Spaces of Everyday Life' on Pregnancy Health

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Influence of the 'Spaces of Everyday Life' on Pregnancy Health

Article excerpt


Health geographers recently acknowledge the need for stronger links between health and social theory, especially with regards to social influences on health and illness (e.g., Gesler 1991, 1992; Kearns 1993; Dorn and Laws 1994; Dyck 1995; Litva and Eyles 1995; Mayer 1996; Philo 1996; Kearns and Gesler 1998; Del Casino 2001; Dyck et al. 2001). Dyck et al. (2001, 6), in their recent book on the Geographies of Women's Health, remark that medical geography 'has delved further into understandings of the contextual nature of women's health status and experience'. Consequently, many medical geographers are focusing on understanding health in terms of the spaces of everyday life. These spaces include those 'through which the body is experienced and perceptions of health and illness are negotiated' (Dyck et al. 2001, 11). This paper contributes to the geographies of women's health by exploring the link between pregnancy health and workspaces, where spaces of everyday life are negotiated.

This study examines the extent to which employment status, number of workplaces and gendered workspaces influence women's health. The specific research questions include the following: (1) To what extent does women's involvement in paid employment (work versus home spaces) affect pregnancy health? (2) To what extent does the number of workplaces women are involved in influence health? and (3) To what extent does the gender composition of the workspace influence pregnancy outcomes? These questions are addressed by analysing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.

First, the changing nature of women's work is outlined, followed by a discussion of current trends in employment during pregnancy. Next, a brief overview of the stress process model is given to illustrate the complex nature of pregnancy and how women's bodies experience and negotiate stressors. The spaces of everyday life are relevant to a stress process model because a series of social spaces are negotiated as health and illness are experienced (Del Casino 2001).

The Changing Nature of Women's Work

There has been an influx of women into the labour force over the past few decades (Krahn and Lowe 2002). This shift in labour force participation is arguably one of the most important social trends in recent times. The increase in labour force participation by women is a result of their higher levels of education and greater need for workers (Fast and Skrypnek 1994; Krahn and Lowe 2002). For many families the presence of women in the workplace is an economic necessity, making the dual-earner family a norm (McFarlane et al. 2000). The gendered nature of society is the result of gendered power relations, and these are also the cause of the gendered household division of labour, which tends to place the burden of caregiving and household chores on families and women in particular (Hallman and Joseph 1999).

Current restructuring of health and social programs (i.e., the decline of the welfare state) increases the amount of work that families do because governments shift the caregiving responsibility to them (England 1990, 1996; England and Stiell 1997; Williams 2001). Glazer (1993) argues that governments restructure work to exploit free labour (i.e., women's unpaid caregiving work). Consequently, many women work a 'double day' (Brodie 1994; Baker 1995; Luxton and Reiter 1997). Manke et al. (1994) report that women continue to perform the majority of household and childrearing tasks even when both spouses work full-time. This added stress can influence the body's experience of health and illness in the workplace (Baker 1995; Dyck et al. 2001).

Working a double day may also lead to role overload and work-family conflict, whereby the demands of both home and workspace collide. Role overload is a chronic strain resulting when individuals take on too many roles at once. For women, role overload occurs most often when occupational and domestic roles are combined, placing excessive demands on time, energy and psychological resources, often resulting in poor health (Lennon and Rosenfield 1994). …

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