Published Papers - Abstract 117

Lee C & Powers JR. Number of social roles, health and well-being in three generations of Australian women. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2002; 9(3): 195-215

The relationship between multiple social roles and health is a particular issue for women, who continue to take major responsibility for childcare and domestic labour despite increasing levels of involvement in the paid workforce. This article analyzes Survey 1 data from the Australian Longitudinal Survey on Women's Health to explore relationships between role occupancy and health, well-being and health service use in three generations of Australian women. A total of 41,818 women in three age groups (young, 18-23; mid-age, 40-45; older, 70-75) responded to mailed surveys. Young and mid-age women were classified according to their occupancy of five roles - paid worker, partner, mother, student and family caregiver - whereas older women were classified according to occupancy of partner and caregiver roles only. Common symptoms (headaches, tiredness, back pain, difficulty sleeping), diagnosis of chronic illness, and use of health services were compared across groups characterized by number of roles. Comparisons were also conducted on the physical and mental component scores of the SF-36 and perceived stress, with and without adjustment for confounders. Among young women, the best health was associated with occupancy of one role; among mid-age women, those with three or more roles were in the best health; and for older women, those with one role were in the best health. Young women with none or with four or more roles, and mid-age and older women with none of the defined social roles, tended to be in the poorest health. Different patterns of results may be explained by differences in the extent to which women at different life stages feel committed to various social roles, and to the extent to which they are able to draw on social, material and economic supports.