Paid work, unpaid work and social support: a study of the health of male and female nurses

Soc Sci Med. 1996 Dec;43(11):1627-36. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00067-6.


Paid work, unpaid work in the home and social support are important elements of the social production of health and illness, though their combined effects on both women and men have only recently become a focus of research. This paper examines their association with the health problems of nurses, presenting data from a survey of a proportional random sample of 2285 male and female nurses registered in the Province of Ontario. The data are first analysed for the full sample and then multiple regression analyses are run separately for male and female Registered Nurses. The demands of paid work (overload, exposure to hazards), unpaid work (time pressures, caring for a dependent adult) and overall stress in life are associated with greater health problems. There is also evidence of significant links between social support and health. A poor relationship with a supervisor is associated with health problems. On the other hand, enjoying a confiding relationship with a friend and having up to 4 children reduces the likelihood of experiencing health problems. The features of nursing associated with fewer health problems are challenge, statisfaction with work and working under 20 hours a week. Several common themes emerge in the analyses of women and men: overload, hazard exposure, satisfaction with work, having 3-4 children and level of overall stress in life. Yet the models are also very different and point to the need for further analyses of the social production of health problems in relation to gender. They also suggest that female nurses, in particular, may suffer the effects of restructuring in the health care sector. Workload issues are especially important for women. Younger women, those reporting time pressures and caring for a dependent adult are more likely to report health problems. Having a confiding relationship with a friend is associated with fewer health problems for women. Among men, those who dislike housework are more likely to experience health problems. Satisfaction with work and overall stress in life were associated with health problems for both men and women, though there may be gender differences in what generates satisfaction and stress.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Ontario
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Support*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Work / psychology*
  • Workload