State College, Pa. (CBS ATLANTA) — Measurements of a prime biological marker of stress show that people are less stressed out at work than they are at home.
A new study from researchers at Penn State University finds that a majority of people’s levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, are significantly lower when they are at their workplace than when they in their own residence. The data showed that this cortisol discrepancy was true for both men and women.
“Home, most of us believe, is where we recover from the stress of the workday,” Sarah Damaske at Penn State University’s School of Labor and Employment Relations, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Cortisol, the adrenal gland’s “fight or flight” hormone produced in response to stress, can cause people to experience sleep problems, digestive dysfunction, heart disease, weight gain, anxiety or depression. The study of 122 participants found that only the most dissatisfied workers showed lower levels of cortisol during their time in the workplace.
Although people reported being happier on weekends, their cortisol levels showed no jumps. But mouth swab cortisol samples taken at work showed that their levels were higher while off-the-clock. Men and women both showed less stress at work, but women were more likely to self-report that they were happier at the office. Researchers attributed this to the possibility that women may do more housework and child care when they are at home.
“Paid work is more valued in society,” Damaske told The Wall Street Journal. “Household work is monotonous and not particularly rewarding.”
Regardless of occupation, the majority of the study participants posted lower averages of cortisol during their work shifts. Whether participants were married or not created no difference, as well, but people without children actually showed an increase at home.
“This is not just a story about home being stressful,” Damaske told the Star-Ledger. “It shows work has some health benefits.”
The only participants who showed no difference in cortisol levels between work and home earned more than $75,000 annually.
“We’re not finding that everyone should go out and work more,” Damaske added. “Like anything, there could be too much of a good thing.”
The study is set to be published in the journal Social Sciences & Medicine.