New study shows 'supermums' more prone to depression
Working mothers who try to combine a high-powered job with an active family life are unhappier than those who simply accept they cannot have everything, a study claims.
A study of 1,600 married women found that those with jobs were less likely to suffer from depression than those who stayed at home to look after their family.
But of the women who did work, the happiest were those who accepted they could not "do it all" and had to make compromises in their professional or family lives.
Sacrificing some career goals or passing responsibility for some aspects of parenting to their husband helped women achieve a healthy work-life balance and made them happier as a result.
In contrast, those who tried to follow a stellar career path while also fulfilling the role of a domestic goddess become frustrated when they fail to live up to the "supermum" image.
Katrina Leupp, a graduate student from the University of Washington, analysed responses from the group of young women to an American government survey focused on their professional and family lives.
The women were asked to rank a series of statements about work-life balance, such as "A woman who fulfils her family responsibilities doesn't have time for a job outside the home" and "A woman is happiest if she can stay at home with her children", according to how much they agreed with them.
Ms Leupp then measured the women's level of depression at the age of 40.
She said: "Women are sold a story that they can do it all, but most workplaces are still designed for employees without childcare responsibilities.
"You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you're willing to let some things slide."
The survey found that young women who firmly believed they could combine employment with family care were more likely to suffer from depression later in life than those who were less ambitious.
Expecting to be able to combine work and family life without making sacrifices, such as leaving the office early to do the school run, made women feel guilty when they struggled to do so.
Guilt over failing to achieve their desired work-family balance and dissatisfaction with the division of chores at home may also have contributed to the higher level of depression among "supermums", according to the study, which will be presented to the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas today.
Ms Leupp said: "Employment is ultimately beneficial for women's health, even when differences in marital satisfaction and working full or part time are ruled out.
"Employed women who expected that work-life balance was going to be hard are probably more likely to accept that they can't do it all."