In a new study, published online last month in Social Science & Medicine, researchers at Penn State University found significantly and consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, in a majority of subjects when they were at work compared with when they were at home. This was true for both men and women, and parents and people without children.
The researchers randomly solicited 122 participants in a midsize northeastern U.S. city, which they declined to identify due to the university's research privacy guidelines. All were over age 18 and worked outside the home five days a week within the 6 a.m.-to-7 p.m. time window.
ShareThe researchers taught the participants to test their own cortisol levels by swabbing the inside of a cheek, and gave each of them a palm device that prompted them to do it six times a day. At those times, they also reported where they were, how stressed they felt and how happy they were. The researchers looked only at participants' levels of cortisol and not other hormones.The majority of subjects had on average lower levels of cortisol at work than at home. It made no difference what their occupation was, whether they were single or married or even if they liked their job or not. One intriguing finding: The only participants who didn't have lower levels of cortisol at work—their levels remained the same as at home—were those who earned more than $75,000 a year. (The researchers, who didn't pursue that finding for this study, said they believe the salary bar would have been higher in a city with a more expensive standard of living.) (Read more.)