By Cynthia Johnston
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Working women who expect they can fill the role of a supermom are at greater risk of depression than mothers who combine work and family but don't expect perfection, new research showed on Saturday.
The research showed working moms generally had lower rates of depression than mothers who stayed at home with their children, even more so if they had realistic expectations of what they could accomplish.
"Women are sold a story that they can do it all, but most workplaces are still designed for employees without child-care responsibilities," said Katrina Leupp, a University of Washington sociology graduate student who led the study.
"You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you're willing to let some things slide," Leupp said in a statement.
The research, to be presented at a weekend conference of the American Sociological Association, analyzed survey responses from 1,600 women, all 40 years old and married, who were participating in the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
The women as young adults had answered questions on their views on work-life balance by ranking how much they agreed with statements including on whether women are happiest when they stay home with their children and whether women who fulfill family responsibilities have time for jobs outside the home.
Later, when the women were 40, their levels of depression were measured, the statement said.
The research found stay-at-home moms had more depression symptoms than working moms. Among mothers who worked, those who as young adults had said women can combine work and family care were at a higher risk of depression than those who expected achieving work-life balance would be tough.
Leupp said in a statement that women who didn't perceive themselves as supermoms may be more comfortable making trade-offs like leaving work early to pick up their children.
Those who had anticipated easily combining work and family life without many compromises may be more likely to feel a sense of failure when they struggle to do it all, she said. Frustration over an unequal division of household labor may also play a role.
The research did not include fathers, but Leupp said most men don't cut back on work hours to spend more time raising their children.
"Supermoms have higher expectations for fairness, so it makes sense that they would be more frustrated with the division of household chores," Leupp said.
"Employment is still ultimately good for women's health," she said. "But for better mental health, working moms should accept that they can't do it all."
(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Jerry Norton)