Study Reveals Cultural Perceptions May Affect Working Parents’ Stress Levels


Stressed Mother on TelephoneResearchers at the University of Iowa have found that some working parents carry more psychological baggage than others. But while factors such as time and energy may be suspected as potential causes, their research shows that the type of occupation the parent has determines their stress level: parents with careers viewed by society as aggressive, weak, or impersonal typically feel more tense than those whose jobs are seen as good, strong, and caring.

Mark Walker, a doctoral student in sociology and co-author of the study, aimed to examine how cultural perceptions of a person’s occupation combined with parental identify to effect the psychological health of working parents. The study’s findings indicated that there was indeed a connection: salespeople, laborers, receptionists, police officers and politicians are rated as the most stressed parents. In contrast, teachers, physicians, nurses, principals, and professors are ranked among the least stressed. The main difference between the two groups is their social image: while the first group would typically be defined as aloof, businesslike, or even confrontational, the second group consists of positions that are nurturing, communicative, and personable.

The researchers are hopeful that their report may help stressed parents by identifying the problem behind their stress. Mary Noonan, an associate professor of sociology and co-author of the study, has stated that the findings warrants further research. Meanwhile, Walker has speculated that the study could be used to help formulate governmental and workplace policies to help employees reduce their psychological strain.

The premise of the team’s study is based on the idea that every person has both an identity and a “cultural meaning”, or a general perception of that identity. To find the link between the cultural meanings of parenting and occupation, they began by merging data on cultural perceptions of parental and occupational identities with a traditional large-scale survey on work-family conflict. They then composed a three-dimensional graph that plotted out various occupations. This graph demonstrated that parents with occupations that don’t mesh with a traditional image of a parent are more likely to encounter doubt in their parenting skills and abilities. Their study, titled “More Than Maxed Out: The Impact of Role Meaning on Psychological Well-being for Working Parents”, will presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

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