Women who are wives, mothers, and employees are healthier at midlife

A journal recently reported the results of this British study, "Life course social roles and women’s health in mid-life: causation or selection?" The conclusion was not that healthy women were more likely to take on all three roles but that women who took on all three roles subsequently had better health, "although some health selection may occur for obesity." I wonder if any of the following are true:
  • women who are married have more emotional and practical (day-to-day getting stuff done) support than women who are not and thus have more time/energy/desire to take care of their health
  • women who are mothers think more in terms of their own long-term health than women who are not
  • women who are employed have a stronger sense of self or receive more positive feedback than women who are not
I'm not sure and would be interested in studies that test these hypotheses and others.

In any case, while the study itself is somewhat interesting, what interested me more were the implicit value judgments in headlines from various newspapers that reported the results of this one study. (Interesting to note that because it was a study from the UK, most of the headlines on Google News were from the UK or from countries with stronger ties to the UK than the US has--Australia, Canada, etc.) It's not news to me that the media is always biased, but the extreme deviation in bias in these headlines surprised me. I guess I'm not used to being exposed to such a variety of news sources on something that people feel so strongly about in both directions. I'm not saying that I think all of these headlines are biased in one direction or another, and I think that some are not that biased at all. I haven't had time to read any of the articles, so I don't know about the biases of the articles or even the media sources they come from. I just think that the use of language here is very interesting, regardless of how you feel about the health of women who have all three of these roles (wife, mother, employee).

Take a look at the selection of headlines below.

'Supermoms' Tend to Be Slimmer
Why working is good for mothers
Being a working mum 'good for health'
Working mums are more likely to be fit, happy and slim
Juggling job, kids a healthy combo for women
A hectic lifestyle may be good for your health
Working Mothers Less Likely to Become Obese, British Study Says
Mums' healthy handful
Work healthier for moms than home
Working mothers are healthier than housewives
Women can have it all - and will be much healthier for it
Career + motherhood = healthy women
STAT Medical News: Stay-at-Home Moms More Likely to Be Obese
Women who do it all live a loved life
Career women make healthy mothers
Working mothers are fighting fit
Outside Jobs Reward Mothers with Paychecks and Good Health
Worker-mothers 'healthiest women'
Working moms less likely to be obese
Juggling work and family keeps you healthier, says study
Juggle that career mum, you'll be healthier in the long run!
Study: Working Moms Look and Feel Better

I especially noticed
  • use of the general term "health" vs. focus on weight or, more specifically, obesity
  • focus on how these women look vs. how they feel vs. their physical health
  • focus on the "working mother" (and specific use of the term "mother" or "mum") vs. the "career woman with kids" (both are healthier)
  • use of the words "working" "career" and "home"
  • whether the headline is reporting better health for mothers and wives employed outside the home or worse health for mothers who stay at home
Some of these headlines portray the marriage/motherhood/career path through life as a struggle or a balancing act, while others portray these women as people who "have it all." It is also interesting that the study also reported that married mothers enjoyed better health than single mothers, but that these articles, or at least their headlines, chose not to focus on that.

It seems that employed mothers is a much hotter topic these days than single vs. married mothers. (Hey, remember this? I can't believe it was almost 14 years ago. Feels like just yesterday. I actually have more to say about choosing single motherhood, but I'll save that for another post.)


Imma said...

I think that happy and healthy women, married or not, are more likely to find work at a satisfying job. I don't think it's the job that makes for healthy women, but, rather, the happy and healthy-looking women who get the jobs.

ALG said...

I agree that it's probably true that happy and healthy people are more likely to find satisfying jobs, but this study seemed to indicate that even controlling for that, there was something that made working-out-of-the-house mothers thinner and stay-at-home mothers heavier.