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Outside Jobs Reward Mothers with Paychecks and Thinner Waists

May 30, 2006

The women who bring home the bacon as well as fry it in the pan are likely to be thinner and healthier than their stay-at-home counterparts, according to researchers.

At age 26, women who were destined to be stay-at-home mothers were larger than women who worked outside the home, reported Anne McMunn, Ph.D., and colleagues, of at University College London .

From ages 26 to 53 these women consistently gained more weight then women who "occupied multiple roles over the long term," they wrote.

Dr. McMunn and colleagues conducted a perspective, population based, birth—cohort study of British women born in 1946—a generation of women who were not only more likely to marry than women born before or after, but also were married younger than their mothers or their daughters.

The authors said that a woman’s health in her 20s did not influence her decision to juggle home and career. They concluded that their results "suggest that good health is more likely to be the result, rather than the cause, of multiple role occupation."

The researchers analyzed data from 1,171 women who had a valid measure of self reported health at age 54 and valid work and family role measures at ages 26, 36, 43 and 53. They also analyzed 1,433 women with valid body mass index (BMI) measures at age 53 and valid work and family role measures at ages 26, 36, 43, and 53. Both groups were born in 1946 and both groups were made up of women who worked inside the home and in an office.

Thirty-eight percent of homemakers were obese at age 53 versus 23% of women who worked outside the home (P=0.033), they wrote.

At age 54, homemakers were most likely to report poor health, followed by single mothers and childless women.
"Neurotocism was also significantly associated with reporting poor health at age 54 (P<0.001), but not with role histories (P=0.8)," they wrote.

Although the authors found an unambiguous link between work outside the home and good health, they don’t know why this is so. "The next step is to better understand what it is about particular work and family roles that influences people’s health," they concluded.

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
McMunn, A et al "Life course social roles and women’s health in mid-life: causation or selection" J Epidemiol Community Health 2006; 60:484-489


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