Skip to main content

Stress and the Superwoman

The incredible power of multi-role supermoms.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
(Illustration: iStock/JamesLee1/Batareykin)

(Illustration: iStock/JamesLee1/Batareykin)

In the popular imagination, there’s a price to be paid for being a “superwoman.”

Anyone who simultaneously takes on the responsibilities of mother, wife, and full-time worker must feel stressed out, right?

Not so, according to the University of Toronto anthropologist Monika Sumra. Her survey of 308 North American women found that multi-role supermoms “do not experience a significantly higher level of perceived stress” than their single-role counterparts.

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol, measured in the hair and urine of 31 of the women, confirmed those results. The study, published in the online journal PLoS One, “suggests role quality, rather than role quantity,” may be the key to a woman’s life satisfaction, along with “variables such as the frequency of sex and exercise.”

Sumra further found that single mothers had “substantially higher levels of stress coupled with diminished life satisfaction.” Perhaps “having it all” requires a supportive spouse.


Submit your response to this story to If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium.

For more from Pacific Standard, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our print magazine, where this piece also appeared. Digital editions are available in the App Store and on Zinio and other platforms.