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Women Health. 1992;18(2):9-40.

Worker and mother roles, spillover effects, and psychological distress.

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  • 1Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College, MA.


This paper examines the relationship between the occupancy and quality of multiple-roles and psychological distress in a stratified random sample of 403 women employed as licensed practical nurses and social workers. We examined the main effects of the quality of the employee and parent roles and the interaction effects between these variables. Negative- and positive-spillover effects, from job to parenting and from parenting to job, were examined in an attempt to illuminate the processes by which multiple roles affect employed mothers' vulnerability or resilience to psychological distress. We found no negative-spillover effects from job to parenting or from parenting to job, but we did find positive-spillover effects from job to parenting. Women with rewarding jobs were protected from the negative mental-health effects of troubled relationships with their children. This protection accrued to employed mothers regardless of their partnership status or the age of their children. Although based on cross-sectional analyses, these findings suggest mechanisms by which employed mothers reap a mental-health advantage from multiple roles, even when some of those roles are stressful.

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