"Home is stressing me out. I have to go to work."
While it might seem ridiculous, that might be exactly what your body is telling you. According to a new study by researchers at Penn State University, women's stress levels are often higher at home than they are at work -- especially for women without children.
To determine stress levels, researchers measured cortisol levels of 122 people during the work week and on the weekends. On average, levels of the stress hormone in participants' saliva were higher during the workday than when they went home. This result was consistent regardless of gender and socioeconomic background. Unsurprisingly, stress levels were lowest during the weekend.
Despite the physiological rise in stress level, men reported feeling happier at home than at work. Women, on the other hand, expressed feeling happier at work and more stressed out at home than men.
Jessica Grose at Slate suggests that it is easier for many women to keep home out of work than to keep work out of home: "There is an expectation that we will all be answering email 24/7 at home, but unless there’s an emergency, you probably don’t have to deal with your home life in quite the same unrelenting way when you’re at work. Only at work can you set one part of your life aside."
Why were men less stressed at home than women? Job satisfaction may play a role. Researchers suggest that women might have more cultural freedom to quit a job they don't like and find one that makes them happier, whereas men remain in unsatisfying work environments -- making time at home seem more appealing.
For working parents -- especially mothers -- that the work day offers a reprieve between chaotic morning routines and the impending "second shift" makes sense. Work that provides clear actions and rewards may cause less stress than the gray area of right and wrong (not to mention the utter exhaustion) that comes with parenting.
But women without children were also found to experience more stress at home than at the office. In fact, the difference in stress levels for women without children was greater than for mothers with kids at home. Researchers suggest that the stress of being at home with children is mitigated by the mood-enhancing benefits. In other words, kids are stressful, but also cute and fun.
A sink full of dirty dishes in a studio apartment is neither cute nor fun. We'd rather write about stress studies.