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PLoS One. 2015 Mar 27;10(3):e0120952. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120952. eCollection 2015.

Stress and the multiple-role woman: taking a closer look at the "superwoman".

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Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON, M1C 1A4, Canada.


In the academic literature there is debate as to whether women who engage in multiple social roles experience more or less stress than women in fewer roles. For the present research we examined the relationship between levels of engagement in seven distinct roles and perceived stress and life satisfaction in a small non-random sample of women in North America (N = 308). We did not find a significant correlation between role engagement and perceived stress, though we did find a small but significant positive correlation between role engagement and life satisfaction. Similarly, in a subset of the participants (N = 31), there was not a significant relationship between the level of role engagement and physiological stress as measured by hair or urinary cortisol levels. We found a significant negative correlation between perceived stress and life satisfaction, and role satisfaction. The results from multiple regression models did not identify the level of role engagement as a significant predictor of either perceived stress or life satisfaction. Role satisfaction in addition to several life style variables such as the frequency of sex and exercise were identified as significant predictors of both outcome variables. We also examined the popularized notion of the "superwoman", which we defined as women who fell within the 4th quartile of role engagement, or those engaged in the wife/mother/worker/homemaker role combination. Based on popular discourses surrounding the superwoman we expected that superwomen would exhibit higher levels of perceived stress. Our results revealed that superwomen do not experience a significantly higher level of perceived stress than non-superwomen. The results of our study therefore suggest that multiple role engagement in women, even at a relatively high level as experienced by "superwomen", is not associated with significantly higher stress, or reduced life satisfaction.

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