Newspaper article

Work, Not Home, Is Refuge from Stress, Study Suggests

Newspaper article

Work, Not Home, Is Refuge from Stress, Study Suggests

Article excerpt

In her 1997 bestselling book "Time Bind," sociologist Arlie Hochschild asserted that home life had become so stressful for many Americans that the workplace was now a refuge from home rather than the other way around.

Some research has supported that assertion. A 1994 study found, for example, that women (but not men) reported being happier at work than at home. But no study has offered objective evidence.

Until now. On Wednesday, a team of researchers led by Sara Damaske, an assistant professor of labor and employment relations at Pennsylvania State University, reported that when people are at work, their levels of cortisol -- a hormone considered a biomarker for stress -- tend to be significantly lower than when they are home.

The findings were announced by the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), a non-profit group that focuses on the work-home balance issues of American families. The study itself will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Study's design

For the study, Damaske and two Penn State colleagues, Joshua Smyth and Matthew Zawadzke, recruited 122 adults, aged 19 to 63 (average age: 41), using random phone calls and postings on university and other websites. Most of the participants were white (77 percent) and female (75 percent). They were all employed in Monday-to-Friday jobs, and had the weekend off. Some 40 percent had professional jobs and 48 percent had at least a four-year college degree. Slightly more than half were middle-income, earning $30,000 to $74,999 a year, while 20 percent earned less than that and 26 percent earned more. In addition, about half (52 percent) were married, and half (50 percent) had children living at home.

The study was three days long, Thursday through Saturday. The participants swabbed their saliva six times each day, and the samples were sent to a laboratory for cortisol-level analysis. The participants were also asked to complete six surveys each day. The surveys were designed to measure their mood and how they perceived their stress at that moment. Each participant was paid $120 for completing the study.

Home, not work, more stressful

The study found that, overall, the participants had significantly lower levels of stress at work than at home, as least according to the amount of cortisol in their saliva.

These findings held for both men and women, and for all occupations, income-levels, and whether or not the participants were married or had children. But the effect was stronger for people with lower incomes and for those who had no children at home.

"These low levels of cortisol may help explain a long-standing finding that has always been hard to reconcile with the idea that work is a major source of stress: People who work have better mental and physical health than their non-working peers," writes Damaske in a commentary on the CCF website. …

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