Journal of Gerontology: SOCIAL SCIENCES
1999, Vol. 54B, No. 6, S329-S338
Copyright 1999 by The Geruntological Society of America
Multiple Roles and Well-Being Among Midlife Women:
Testing Role Strain and Role Enhancement Theories
Jennifer Reid and Melissa Hardy
Department of Sociology and Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Florida State University, Tallahassee.
Research on women's multiple roles frequently adopts one of two perspectives: role strain, which argues that
assuming multiple roles is detrimental to mental well-being, or role enhancement, which argues that engaging in multiple roles
enhances mental well-being. We argue that the relationship between role occupancy and well-being is manifested through mul-
tiple dimensions of role experiences. We investigate the association between depressive symptomatology and various dimen-
sions of the roles of wife, mother, paid worker, and informal caregiver to aging parents.
Data are from the 1992 wave of the Health and Retirement Study. Depressive symptomatology, measured by a
subset of the CES-D scale, is the dependent variable. To assess the robustness of findings relative to different functional forms
of the dependent variable, we estimate multiple regression, log-linear regression, and multinomial logit models. Independent
variables include demographic characteristics, measures of role occupancy, role demands, and role satisfaction.
Although the number of roles women assume affects their reports of depressive symptoms, once the demand and
satisfaction associated with these roles is controlled, number has no effect; that is, the effect of the number of roles is indirect.
Our results highlight the importance of women's perceptions of the quality of their roles in relation to their
overall well-being. Future investigations of women's multiple roles should examine how roles may provide rewards, impose
constraints, or generate conflict, as well as the extent to which the willingness to assume multiple roles and the reported levels
of role satisfaction and mental well-being may be jointly endogenous.
HAT women spend much of their adult lives juggling the
demands of multiple roles is not news. Because the roles
that women occupy depend, in part, on age and family struc-
ture, roles common to women of one age may be much less
common and, perhaps, much less enjoyable for women of dif-
ferent ages. As more people survive to old age and live longer
as elders, more women find themselves assuming the role of
caregiver to multiple generations of family members while they
continue in their roles as wives and paid workers. Managing
multiple roles can be both stressful and satisfying. Even very
demanding roles can be associated with enhanced well-being if
they reinforce a positive sense of identity. Studies that examine
the impact of women's multiple roles on their well-being gen-
erally explore the roles of wife, mother, and paid worker, but
exclude the role of informal caregiver to aging adults. In addi-