Multiple roles and well-being among midlife women: Testing role strain and role enhancement theories

Jennifer Reid, Melissa Hardy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Objective. Research on women's multiple roles frequently adopts one of two perspectives: role strain, which argues that assuming multiple roles is detrimental to mental well-being, or role enhancement, which argues that engaging in multiple roles enhances mental well-being. We argue that the relationship between role occupancy and well-being is manifested through multiple dimensions of role experiences. We investigate the association between depressive symptomatology and various dimensions of the roles of wife, mother, paid worker, and informal caregiver to aging parents. Methods. Data are from the 1992 wave of the Health and Retirement Study. Depressive symptomatology, measured by a subset of the CES-D scale, is the dependent variable. To assess the robustness of findings relative to different functional forms of the dependent variable, we estimate multiple regression, log-linear regression, and multinomial logit models. Independent variables include demographic characteristics, measures of role occupancy, role demands, and role satisfaction. Results. Although the number of roles women assume affects their reports of depressive symptoms, once the demand and satisfaction associated with these roles is controlled, number has no effect; that is, the effect of the number of roles is indirect. Discussion. Our results highlight the importance of women's perceptions of the quality of their roles in relation to their overall well-being. Future investigations of women's multiple roles should examine how roles may provide rewards, impose constraints, or generate conflict, as well as the extent to which the willingness to assume multiple roles and the reported levels of role satisfaction and mental well-being may be jointly endogenous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S329-S338
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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