Women's work and its impact on their mental and physical health : a quantitative study of mothers in Tehran
Aims. Research on women's health and the effects of multiple roles is associated with women's increased labour force participation in the post war period in the West. Competing theoretical approaches view women's work out of home either negatively or positively. Developing countries such as Iran, on their way towards industrialisation, are subject to socioeconomic changes similar to those in the West. This thesis investigates the extent to which the recently accelerated trend towards women's labour force participation in Iran affects women's health, either positively or negatively, and explores the relevance of Western theoretical approaches in a different cultural context. It is the first known study of its kind in Iran. Method. A primary survey was conducted of a representative sample of working and nonworking mothers in Tehran in 1998 (N=1065, 710 working mothers, with a response rate of 84.5% and 355 non-working mothers with a response rate of 88.1 %). Three main explanatory factors were examined (socio-demographic, work and work-related, and social-life context variables) alongside a range of mental and physical health outcome variables. Results. Unlike in the West, where women's paid work is generally associated with better health, statistically significant differences between working and non-working women were not found in Tehran. It is argued that this is a result of the counter-balance of the positive and negative factors associated with paid work, such as increased stress on the one hand and self esteem on the other. Iranian society's particular socio-cultural climate has contributed to this finding, with its dominant sex-role ideology; the priority and extra weight placed on women's traditional roles as wives and mothers, and the remarkably influential impact of husbands' attitudes on women's health. Among working women, however, significant improvements in health were related to certain factors: better psycho-social and physical conditions in paid work; higher occupational class; higher self-esteem; working outside the home, rather than doing paid work in the home; approval of paid work by husbands; and lower levels of role conflict.