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Pressure on women to ‘have it all’ makes health suffer

The stress of modern life is taking its toll on the health of young women.

That’s according to a study that reveals twice as many females nowadays are at risk of burnout compared to almost 30 years ago.

In 1990, 8.5 per cent rated their health as being worse than peers in their own age group. By 2014, this trend had increased to 20 per cent of women.   

In contrast, men rated their health as better at the end of the study period compared to the start.

Scientists say the findings could have implications for their long-term health as they are more likely to develop disease as they get older.

The finding came from a long-term study of 1,811 people aged 25 to 34. 

The pressure on young women today to ‘manage everything’ including their jobs and their families is making their health suffer (stock photo)


According to the study authors, possible causes for a negative health trend among young women may be:

  • Tougher working conditions in female-dominated professions such as in healthcare
  • Increased risk of burnouts (stress-related exhaustion disorder) and stress of conscience
  • General societal expectations such as pressures to be successful, socially active and physically attractive
  • Basing their self-confidence on achievements and expected patterns of consumption
  • Lack of equality in one’s private life
  • Men’s violence against women
  • Two conflicting but coinciding norm systems in society – equality and traditional gender roles – where women must fulfil expectation related to both (that is ‘manage everything’)

Women’s risk of burnout

Women are suffering as they are expected to ‘manage everything’ including their jobs and their families.

They are also under general pressure from society to be successful, socially popular and physically attractive, say researchers.

They blame tougher working conditions in female-dominated professions such as healthcare.

Other factors include increased risk of stress-related exhaustion and lack of equality in their private life.

They are also more likely to suffer violence at the hands of men.

Equal home life good for men

They suggest men are happier today because they are still valued more highly in the workplace than women despite having a lower level of education.

A more equal responsibility for children and the household is beneficial for men’s health, it is claimed, and the equality norm opens up for more variation in the so-called ‘masculine role’.    

The study also suggests they have fewer ties to ‘rigid masculine norms’ in the local community through the Internet.

Health risks 

Dr Annika Forssen, a GP and lecturer at Umea University in Sweden which conducted the study, said: ‘Self-rated health is a widespread method of assessing health in populations.’

She said an independent predictor of future illness including heart attacks, risk of diabetes, depression, rheumatic disease and sick leave, medical care utilisation and mortality.

The results also showed more people – of both genders – report suffering with obesity, anxiety and dissatisfaction with their personal wealth these days. 

‘In recent years public debate has raised the issue of increased illness and sick leaves among women,’ she added.

‘Our study now shows for the first time there are corresponding health trends also among young women.’

The study, published in PLOS ONE, analysed answers from participants in the MONICA study in Northern Sweden. Though experts argue similar patterns can be seen in the rest of the Western world. 

‘Our study shows deteriorating comparative self-rated health in young women despite Sweden being a strong welfare state,’ said Dr Forssen.

‘The rates of unemployed young adults compared to other countries are low.

‘Large shares of young adults have post-secondary education and a high level of physical activity. This should make self-rated health better.’ 

Co-author Dr Goran Waller suggested ‘the promotion of equal rights to health for men and women need significant revisions’.