Fewer Blues for Mothers With Lower Expectations

TIMEOctober 1, 2015

Women who believe they can be Supermoms are more likely to show signs of depression, according to a new study presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you’re willing to let some things slide," said Katrina Leupp. A graduate student from the University of Washington, Leupp led the study and presented the paper, titled, “Even Supermoms Get the Blues: Employment, Gender Attitudes, and Depression,” on Saturday, Aug.20 in Las Vegas.

Women are "sold a story that they can do it all," said Leupp in a statement, but most workplaces aren’t designed for employees with child care responsibilities. The paper notes that both the workplace and home are “greedy institutions” that hold the notion that the “ideal worker” can completely devote him or herself to the job.

Leupp analyzed results from the U.S. Department of Labor’s 1,600 women study to look at the effect between women’s employment statuses and their attitudes toward working mothers.

According to a 2006 population survey, 80 percent of women with children over age 5 were employed. The women surveyed by the Department of Labor were 40 years of age, as they were less likely to "experience work-family conflict generated by infant care," married, and a mix of working and stay-at-home mothers.

The survey asked the women to rank how much they agreed with four statements:

a) A wife who carries out her full family responsibilities doesn’t have time for outside employment.
b) The employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency.
c) It is much better for everyone concerned if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of home and family.
d) Women are much happier if they stay at home and take care of their children.

The results showed that “ironically, women who hold little or no belief in women’s ability to ‘have it all’ may be better able to avoid depression,” according to the study.

According to the report, the results supported the conclusion that, overall, women in the labor force have better mental health.

“Employment is ultimately beneficial for women’s health, even when differences in marital satisfaction and working full or part time are ruled out,” said Leupp. “Stay-at-home moms have the hardest job in the world.”

However, the results also showed that women who had no faith in being able to "simultaneously meet employment and family care responsibilities" have the lowest risk for depression among all working moms.

“Employed women who expected that work-life balance was going to be hard are probably more likely to accept that they can’t do it all,” Leupp said. She suggested they were more likely to make trade-offs such as leaving work early to pick up kids and splitting responsibilities.

According to Leupp, the current study only looks at the relationship between women’s “gender attitudes and employment status,” which is limiting. The report notes that future studies will look at wellbeing in a broader scope, considering aspects like self-esteem, mastery, and physical health.