Stress From Work, Social Interactions Put Women at Higher Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

The study suggests that the effects of job strain and social strain on women have a powerful health impact, with both being associated with a 21% higher risk of developing CHD.

Researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health found that psychosocial stress, resulting from difficulty coping with challenging environments, may work synergistically to put women at significantly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD).

The study suggests that the effects of job strain and social strain on women have a powerful health impact, with both being associated with a 21% higher risk of developing CHD. Job strain occurs when a woman has inadequate power in the workplace to respond to the job’s demands and expectations, according to the study.

Further, the study found that high-stress life events, such as a divorce/separation or physical/verbal abuse, as well as social strain, were each independently linked with a 12% and 9% higher risk of CHD, respectively.

The Drexel study used data from a nationally representative sample of 80,825 postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which followed participants from 1991 to 2015, to find better methods of preventing cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis in women. In the current follow-up study, Drexel researchers evaluated the effects of psychosocial stress from job strain, stressful life events, and social strain, as well as associations among these forms of stress on CHD, according to the study.

During the 14-year, 7-month study, nearly 5% of the women developed CHD. High-stress life events were associated with a 12% increased CHD risk, adjusting for age, time at a job, and socioeconomic characteristics, and high social strain was associated with a 9% increased risk of CHD; however, work strain was not independently associated with CHD.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ongoing stresses for women in balancing paid work and social stressors. We know from other studies that work strain may play a role in developing CHD, but now we can better pinpoint the combined impact of stress at work and at home on these poor health outcomes,” said senior author Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM, an associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health, in a press release. “My hope is that these findings are a call for better methods of monitoring stress in the workplace and remind us of the dual-burden working women face as a result of their unpaid work as caregivers at home.”

The study authors note that future research should evaluate the effects of shift work on CHD and explore the effects of job demands according to gender.

“Our findings are a critical reminder to women, and those who care about them, that the threat of stress to human health should not go ignored,” said lead author Conglong Wang, PhD, a recent Dornsife graduate who conducted the research while at Drexel, in the press release. “This is particularly pertinent during the stressors caused by a pandemic.”


Stress from work and social interactions put women at higher risk of coronary heart disease, Drexel study suggests. Drexel Now. Published April 9, 2021. Accessed April 16, 2021.

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