Are stay-at-home moms more depressed than working mothers? In a Gallup poll released last week, stay-at-home moms showed a 28% depression rate compared to 17% of working mothers and 17% of working women without children.
Stay-at-home mothers reported more anger, stress, sadness, and worry. They were more likely to report themselves as struggling and suffering!
This is very important data. According to Gallup, stay-at-home moms make up 37% of mothers with kids living at home.
So who are these stay-at-home moms? Contrary to the mythical model of the rich stay-at-home mom who bounces between yoga class, tennis, pilates, and home to the nanny, the reality of stay-at-home moms is much grimmer. They tend to be poorer on average, younger, Latina, less likely to have graduated from high school or college, and more likely to have been foreign-born.
Here’s some more data directly from the Gallup report, which explored the well-being of 60,000 U.S. women in 2012.
In terms of worry 41% of stay-at-home moms reported worry, compared to 34% of employed moms and 31% of employed women without children.
In terms of sadness 26% of the stay-at-home moms reported it, compared to 16% of employed moms and 16% of employed women without children.
In terms of depression, almost a third of the stay-at-home moms (28%) reported depression, while only 17% of employed moms and 17% of employed women without children reported depression.
The only negative emotion that didn’t vary very much was stress. 50% of stay-at-home moms reported stress, but 48% of employed moms and 45% of employed women without children also reported stress. So apparently stress is pretty much the same across the board for women.
In terms of anger, 19% of stay-at-home moms reported it, while 14% of employed moms and only 12% of employed women without children reported anger.
What about positive emotions? Even though Gallup makes much of the lower ratings of positive emotions for stay-at-home moms, the numbers don’t reflect very large differences. 42% of stay-at-home moms reported themselves as struggling, while 36% of employed moms and 38% of employed women without children reported themselves as struggling. Not a very large difference and probably not statistically significant. What’s interesting about this data is that so many women, regardless of their parenting status, report themselves as struggling. This is quite troubling. I’d be very curious to see comparative data on men.
This is interesting research and completely consistent with some other research that was conducted by Daniel Kahneman and associates on women’s experienced happiness performing various activities. He looked at the percentage of time that women spent in unhappy mood states. Parenting activities showed a 24% on happiness ratio as compared to 18% for housework, 12% for socializing, 12% for TV watching, and 5% for sex! Even though children are delightful, parenting is hard work, and there are many negative emotions associated with it. Working outside the home has negative emotions also, with a 27% unhappy emotion ratio, but it also has rewards and recognition that the lonely job of parenting does not have.
So what should we make of all this research? What wasn’t investigated by Gallup is the relative advantages versus disadvantages for the children of stay-at-home moms versus working moms. So we don’t know if there are significant benefits to the children, which might compensate for the higher levels of suffering reported by stay-at-home moms. I may come back to this issue in a future blog post.
In any case, it suggests that stay-at-home moms need much better support systems from our society, and that we also need to develop better ways for women split time at home and work. Currently there are few options for women who wish to work part-time at satisfying jobs. Because child care in the United States is so expensive, it is difficult for poorer women to stay in the workforce. This may lead to higher levels of depression and suffering in women.
From a clinical perspective, psychotherapists need to be alerted to be extra careful to screen stay-at-home moms for depression and anxiety disorders. I have a quick depression screening test on my website which stay-at-home moms can use to identify if they are suffering depression. If so, call someone for help. Don’t suffer in silence.
Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and other difficulties using evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.