A study has shown that happily married women deal with day today stress better.The study, led by Darby E. Saxbe, a UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) graduate student in clinical psychology measured the levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, in 30 married couples involved in raising kids when both parents work full time.
"At least as far as women are concerned, being happily married appears to bolster physiological recovery from work," said Saxbe.
In the study, the researchers asked the 60 middle-class parents to complete a standardized test of marital satisfaction. Twice during each of the three days over which the study was conducted, the parents also filled out a questionnaire while they were at work that asked how their workday was going and how busy they felt.
At four intervals i.e. early morning, late morning, afternoon and evening, the team collected saliva samples, which were then analysed for cortisol concentrations.
Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands under stressful conditions and is widely considered a reliable marker for an individual's response to, and recovery from, stress. Its levels start high in the morning and steadily decline over the course of the day, with intermittent rises as stressors arouse the adrenal gland.
The analysis found that women in happy marriages enjoyed stronger cortisol declines than their counterparts in less blissful unions.
In case of men, no matter the quality of their marriage, they showed an exaggerated cortisol decrease after busier days. However, only happily married women appeared to enjoy this benefit; unhappily married women did not show the exaggerated drop-off in cortisol after a busy day.
"After a tough day at the office, cortisol levels dropped further among happily married women than less happily married ones. Less happily married women also showed a flatter daily pattern of cortisol release, suggesting that they are rebounding less well from everyday stress," said Saxbe.
Rena Repetti, a co-author of the study and a UCLA professor in the department of psychology said: "Cortisol may by one of the routes by which repeated everyday stress translates into long-term mental and physical health problems."
"It may be that a chronically unhappy marriage creates multiple occasions everyday when the wife needs to mount a stress response, putting her cortisol levels on a kind of roller coaster ride.
"They're coming home from a busy day and instead of having some time to unwind and relax and have a spouse picking up the load of setting the table, getting dinner going, signing forms for the kids, these women may have to immediately to launch back into another stressful routine. Perhaps in happily married couples the demands of domestic life are being shared more equitably between men and women, or at least that may be the case when wives return home from a demanding day at work," Repetti added.
The study is published in Health Psychology.