Background: The aim of this study was to analyse how paid work, unpaid household tasks, child care, work-child care interactions and perceived work stress are associated with reported symptoms in male and female white-collar employees.
Methods: A questionnaire was mailed to 1300 men and 1300 women belonging to the white-collar sector, with at least 35 hours of regular employment a week and a participant age of between 32 and 58 years. It contained items relating to total workload (hours spent on paid work, unpaid household tasks and childcare), subjective indices for work stress and symptoms. The response rate was 65% (743 women; 595 men). Gender difference in symptom prevalence was tested by analyses of variance. Odds ratios were used to estimate the bivariate associations between work-related variables and symptom prevalence. A multivariate analysis estimated the effect of paid and unpaid work interaction, work-childcare interplay and possible synergy.
Results: The frequency and severity of symptoms was higher in women than in men (P < 0.0001). Employed women's health was determined by the interaction between conditions at work and household duties (OR 2.09; 1.06-4.14), whereas men responded more selectively to long working hours, i.e. >50 h/week (OR 1.61; 1.02-2.54). However, childcare (<21 h/week) appeared to have a buffer effect on the risk of a high level of symptoms in men working long hours.
Conclusion: Working life and private circumstances and the interplay between them need to be taken into account to curb stress-related ill health in both men and women.