Parents' demanding jobs put children's mental health at risk

December 6, 2017, Australian National University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Jobs that are overly demanding at the expense of family time put the mental health of employees' children at risk, a new study led by ANU has found.

The researchers said the study, which involved La Trobe University in Melbourne, underlined the need for employers and policymakers to promote a healthy work-life balance.

The study observed around 2,500 working couples and their over 10 years as part of the "Growing Up in Australia" research project.

Lead researcher Dr Huong Dinh from ANU said children were at the highest risk when both experienced conflict between their job and time, and this most often happened if they worked in jobs with heavy workloads, long hours and job insecurity.

She said six out of 10 working couples had at some time struggled to manage work and family commitments, and one in seven experienced prolonged periods when one parent was not managing these commitments well.

"When parents struggle to juggle family and work responsibilities, they become tired, stressed, cranky and unhappy, which has an impact on family relationships and their children's wellbeing," Dr Dinh said.

"We show that when employment and family are in conflict with each other, this undermines the health of both parents and their children - and this occurs when either fathers or are in very demanding or inflexible ."

Co-researcher Professor Lyndall Strazdins from ANU said this was one of the first studies to show that a parent's work-life imbalance affected their children's mental health, which was reported on by the parent who knew the child best - mostly mothers.

She said the reports included an assessment of children's emotional symptoms, behavioural problems, hyperactivity or inattention, and relationships with peers.

Credit: Australian National University

"The onset and persistence of conflicts between parents' work and family life led to greater mental health problems in children, including withdrawal and anxiety, compared to children of parents with little or no work-life challenges," said Professor Strazdins from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

"The good news is that children's mental health improves when their parents' work-life balance improves."

Professor Strazdins said families with both parents working was now the norm in Australia and other developed countries.

She said research showed, on average across the Australian population, fathers spend more time at paid work than mothers, who take on more care and domestic responsibilities.

"Mothers are more likely to tailor their work around children's needs, doing flexible or part-time work, and taking time off work to look after a sick child," she said.

Co-researcher Dr Amanda Cooklin from La Trobe University said employers needed to ensure that workplaces were family-friendly, for fathers as well as mothers, so that children can flourish.

"Jobs with manageable hours, autonomy, flexibility and security will not only support the and wellbeing of workers, but will also protect the of children," she said.

"Flexible arrangements are usually targeted at mothers, but fathers also benefit from these kinds of arrangements - as do their children."

The study is published in the international journal Social Science & Medicine.

Explore further: Good jobs can lead to happy families

More information: Huong Dinh et al. Parents' transitions into and out of work-family conflict and children's mental health: Longitudinal influence via family functioning, Social Science & Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.10.017

Related Stories

Good jobs can lead to happy families

May 17, 2013
Most people associate work with negative effects on family life, but new research from The Australian National University (ANU) has turned this view on its head, showing that the positives of jobs flow through too.

Children's sleep quality linked to mothers' insomnia

August 31, 2017
Children sleep more poorly if their mothers suffer from insomnia symptoms - potentially affecting their mental wellbeing and development - according to new research by the University of Warwick and the University of Basel.

Teenage depression linked to father's depression

November 15, 2017
Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

Fathers with learning disabilities 'left out of support,' study finds

October 19, 2017
Fathers with learning disabilities are often let down by statutory services, which neglect to support them around parenting or focus only on mothers, a study has found.

Recommended for you

Researcher unlocking relationship between early math ability, fingers

March 23, 2018
Ask toddlers how old they are, and they are likely to hold up the corresponding number of fingers and say, "this many."

Analyzing past failures may boost future performance by reducing stress

March 23, 2018
Insights from past failures can help boost performance on a new task—and a new study is the first to explain why. US researchers report that writing critically about past setbacks leads to lower levels of the "stress" hormone, ...

How reciprocity can magnify inequality

March 22, 2018
People tend to reciprocate others' actions in ways that increase disparities in wealth, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Building tolerance to anxiety is key to OCD symptom relief

March 22, 2018
Excessive hand washing, out of a fear of contamination or germs, is one of the most common and best-known examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Though OCD can't be "cured," symptoms can be significantly reduced ...

Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression

March 22, 2018
Stopping exercise can result in increased depressive symptoms, according to new mental health research from the University of Adelaide.

Antioxidants and amino acids could play role in the treatment of psychosis

March 22, 2018
A scientific paper has revealed that some nutrients found in food may help reduce the symptoms of psychotic illness, when used in the early stages of treatment.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.