This newspaper headline certainly caught my eye: "Working wives have ill effect on husbands' health."
Great. Something else for me to feel bad about, I fumed. And I thought we were worried about the welfare of the kids when we returned to work.
Now we hear that hubby begins a slow slide into an early grave the minute we turn the key in the ignition for the daily commute.
Dr. Ross Stolzenberg, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and a researcher with the Alfred P. Sloan center for Working Families and Children, combed the data gathered from 2,867 husbands and wives and found that when the wife works more than 40 hours a week, her husband's chances of being in good or excellent health decline by more than 25 percent.
"Her paid work has substantial, statistically significant negative effects on changes in her husband's health," Stolzenberg told attendees at a Washington conference.
His report caught the eye of plenty of other reporters, and Stolzenberg, who is somewhat nonplussed by the attention, was into his third straight day of nonstop interviews when I called.
"You shouldn't feel bad," he said, although he quickly added that he is not that kind of doctor. "I am not saying women should stay home."
Stolzenberg explained that couples do three things for each other that are health-related, and all of these can be compromised if the wife's job requires more from her than the standard 40 hours.
First is what he calls constructive nagging: Women often pester their husbands to take it easy or get some exercise or visit a doctor or skip dessert or forgo that extra drink.
Second, we tend to take care of our spouses when they are sick, and that helps them get better faster. It might not be the chicken soup, but the fact that we chased him to bed and made him take his medicine that speeds his recovery.
But more important than either of these might be the dinner parties, family reunions and double dates that she arranges.
It looks as though the social engineering that wives so often do -- to the frequent irritation of husbands -- does more for his health, and hers, than all the nagging and pillow-plumping in the world.
"Over the last 15 or 20 years, there has been huge research that provides overwhelming evidence that stress is a powerful cause of illness," Stolzenberg said. And there is just as much evidence that constructive social contact with family and friends is a powerful reducer of stress.
"It turns out that wives do a lot more of this arranging," he said. So if she is working more than 40 hours a week, a lot less of it gets done.
Studies of divorce bear this out, he said. The major impact of divorce on women is to immediately reduce their financial well-being. Often they are thrown into poverty.
For men, the major immediate effect is to reduce their constructive social contact with others, and this persists until they remarry.
"The impact of this positive socialization is powerful, extremely powerful," Stolzenberg said. "Without it, stress increases and then it does its horrible work."
In short, it's not the doctors appointments a wife makes that keep her man well. It is the dinner reservations.
No doubt, more research is needed to determine why men are so often grumpy about the social commitments we make for them -- and why they so rarely make them for us.
But in the meantime, this study suggests, wives can feel less self-conscious about filling up the calendar with reasons why husbands have to change into something presentable.
And that will go a long way toward reducing our stress.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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