Being a parent is one of the most stressful jobs on the planet, and now, new research is exposing professional occupations that make being a mom or dad even more psychologically taxing. Published by the American Sociological Association, researchers from the University of Iowa have found that parents with jobs that aren't viewed by society as particularly 'nurturing' are more likely to be stressed than other working parents.

The study was done with the understanding that all professional roles come with a cultural identity. That is, whether you're a teacher, priest, or police officer, every job comes with a distinct characterization based on society's views. "We use cultural information that defines those [professional] identities," says Mark Walker, doctoral student at the University of Iowa and lead researcher of the study. He adds that the way people respond to us is based on that cultural information.

What Society Thinks of Your Career May Affect Your Confidence as a Parent

Researchers collected and analyzed data on the cultural meaning of parental and professional identities, using a traditional large-scale survey on work-family conflict. They found that most people think negatively of parents whose jobs do not culturally align with being a 'good' mother or father. Occupations that were correlated with negative parenting abilities usually involved long hours and significant psychological baggage—positions like politicians, attorneys, and salespeople. Jobs that were linked with 'better' parenting involved duties that require nurturing and aid—positions like nurses, physicians, and teachers.

Parents 'Swimming Upstream'

While these findings expose societal conceptions of those in certain fields of work, researchers also note that these preconceived ideas can cause stress for people, as parents and as professionals. Walker notes that this kind of skepticism can take an emotional toll on parents with jobs that aren't aligned with good parenting. “Those parents are always swimming upstream trying to convince people they are, for example, a legitimate parent or a legitimate attorney."

Researchers believe that their findings have the potential to influence workplace policies, changing professional environments in order to decrease psychological stress and anxiety. In the same way, the study brings awareness to societal conceptions that are damaging to parents and families. Exposing this problem as a social issue rather than an individual one can significantly help working parents, adds Walker.

Recommended For You

Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S.
Liz Matheis, Ph.D.
Daniel Segenreich M.D., Ph.D.
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D.
Maisha M. Syeda, MSc.



Walker, Mark, Mary Noonan, and Freda B. Lynn. More than Maxed Out: Working Parents and the Psychological Toll of Spanning Culturally Discrepant Roles. American Sociological Assiocation, 16 August 2014. DOI:

Date of original publication:

Updated: November 10, 2015