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High Stress Jobs Can Take a Toll on Employee’s Family


New Haven, Conn. — People dealing with the daily stress of a high-pressure career can adversely affect the mental health of their spouses, new research conducted by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

This work-related “spillover” from an unhappy mate can be as significant to a spouse’s mental well-being as other important factors, including his or her own physical and mental health.

Associations between spouses in areas such as education, intelligence, political views and physical health have long been established. Research also has shown that some couples have similar mental health outcomes, but it is difficult to show whether the similarity is based on “spillovers” from one another or because they are exposed to many of the same environmental and social conditions, such as neighborhood crime rates or access to health care.

“Much previous research has shown that spouses have similar mental health characteristics, but my paper demonstrates that work-related stress can ripple through the family,” said Jason M. Fletcher, an assistant professor in the division of Health Policy and Administration and the study’s lead author.

The study controlled for a host of variables—including existing relationship quality and spousal characteristics—to isolate the role that workplace conditions have on the mental health of an employee’s spouse. Future research will specifically focus on depressive symptoms in order to further quantify the magnitude of the “spillover” effect.

The study relied on data collected from more than 2,000 adults who participated in a national study that included questions about mental health, physical health and occupation for both the respondent and spouse. Participants were tracked over a 10-year period.

The findings have potential implications for policies that govern the workplace, said Fletcher, noting that those that contribute to decreased work-related stress could have a positive impact on the mental well-being not only of the employee, but his or her spouse and other family members as well. Such policies, he said, might include flex-time or counseling services, and could be cost-effective for the employer as well as beneficial for the employee and his or her family.

Details of the research appear in the current issue of The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy.


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