The Health Effects of Role Reversal
Over the course of a short half-century, a drastic change has occurred. The so-called “traditional” roles, chiseled over centuries of time, tradition and societal norms, are being challenged to where Mom staying home to raise the kids, Dad going to work, and the grandparents’ retirement behind a white picket fence have almost become a non-norm. These days it’s often Mom donning the business suit while Dad simmers the soup and bathes the kids. Instead of retiring to fulfill their hobbies and travel dreams, today’s grandparents often reap their children’s broken marriages and dysfunctional families to raise grandkids full-time. Some parents are cared for by their own children in their old age. Couples divorce, and each parent tries to assume the role of both, or children try to fill the gap left by a missing parent.
These situations are versatile enough so that each of us can expect, at some point in our lives, to mentally gear up for an on-the-job crash course in role reversal, with all the flexibility and ingenuity that the term suggests.
Given the widespread instances in which role reversal occurs, it is not surprising that the topic has been the object of several studies. However, what is rather unexpected is the fact that there are marked health effects to situations that require evolving from traditional roles and norms.
Health Effects of Role Reversal
Research conducted by Dr. Elaine D. Eaker, of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises, LLC, in Chili, Wisconsin, the principal investigator of the Framingham Offspring Study, was released in April 2002 by the American Heart Association at their Asia Pacific Scientific Forum. The study links non-traditional jobs and social roles to heart disease and death.
Scientists found that men who spent most of their adult lives being stay-at-home dads had an 82 percent higher death rate over a ten-year span when compared to men who worked outside the home. The study also concluded that men in jobs with high prestige were at lower risk than those in a lower educational level and lower income brackets. Likewise, married men faced almost half the risk of death compared to widowed, divorced, or separated men.
In the case of working moms in “high demands job situations,” the effects were contrary to the men’s. When compared to women in low-authority positions, the former were found to face almost triple the risk of developing heart disease.
Another study conducted by University of Chicago sociologist Ross Stolzenberg found that, “The husbands of women who worked more than forty hours a week were significantly less healthy than other married men.”
Stolzenberg’s analysis was published in the American Journal of Sociology and is based on data collected in 1986 from 2,867 adults in a survey conducted by the University of Michigan. Three years later, the participants in the study were again interviewed and were asked to give their own assessment on the status of their overall health, ranging on a scale from “excellent” to “poor.” It was interesting to note that husbands’ jobs and work hours had no effect on their wives’ health whatsoever, regardless of how many hours they worked. Likewise, as reported by Stolzenberg, “Fewer than 40 hours of work per week by wives has no effect on husbands’ health, but more than 40 hours has substantial negative effect.”
Further research carried out by the University of Pennsylvania has shown that women who work as breadwinners and cope with a family are generally healthier than homemakers who don’t have paying jobs.
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