The purpose of this study was to examine the pattern of diurnal variation of blood pressure in normotensive working women, and to assess the effect of work stress on this pattern. The subjects were 121 normotensive (based on clinic readings less than 140/90 mmHg) young women (age = 30.2 +/- 7.3 years; range 20-50) who wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor on a workday from 9 am to 6 am the next day. The effect of work stress on the pattern of variation was assessed by comparing the hourly averages among women who perceived greater stress at work on the day of study ('work stressed') (n = 67) with those of women who perceived greater or equal stress at home on the day of study ('home stressed') (n = 54). The results showed that the systolic pressure of 'work stressed' women was 5-8 mmHg higher (P less than 0.05) and diastolic 3-4 mmHg higher (P less than 0.05) than 'home stressed' women for nearly every hour from 9 am to 6 pm. From 7 pm to 6 am, both groups were similar hour by hour. These data suggest that there is no intrinsic pattern of diurnal blood pressure variation (other than an awake-sleep cycle) in working women. The data also provide a reference standard for comparison with hypertensive women.