Women, family demands and health: the importance of employment status and socio-economic position

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jul;59(2):263-74. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.10.029.


Although it is generally assumed that women engaged in paid work have better health than full-time homemakers, little is known about the situation in Southern European countries like Spain or about differences in the impact of family demands by employment status or the potential interaction with educational level. The objectives of this study are to analyse whether inequalities in health exist among housewives and employed women, and to assess whether the relationship between family demands and health differs by employment status. Additionally, for both objectives we examine the potential different patterns by educational level. The data have been taken from the 1994 Catalonian Health Survey (Spain). The sample was drawn from all women aged 25-64 years who were employed or full-time homemakers and married or cohabiting. Four health indicators (self-perceived health status, limiting long-standing illness, chronic conditions and mental health) and two health related behaviours (hours of sleeping and leisure-time physical activity) were analysed. Family demands were measured through household size, living with children under 15 and living with elderly. Overall, female workers had a better health status than housewives, although this pattern was more consistent for women of low educational level. Conversely, the health related behaviours analysed were less favourable for workers, mainly for those of low educational level. Among workers of low educational level, family demands showed a negative effect in most health indicators and health related behaviours, but had little or no negative association at all in workers of high educational level or in full-time homemakers. Moreover, among women of low educational level, both workers and housewives, living with elderly had showed a negative association with poor health status and health related behaviours. These results emphasise the need of considering the interaction between family demands, employment status and educational level in analysing the impact of family demands on women's health as well as in designing family policies and programmes of women's health promotion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Employment*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spain
  • Women's Health*
  • Women, Working*