Media Releases

Education empowers Canadians but raises risks of overwork and work-family stress

November 20, 2014

TORONTO, ON — The high­er your lev­el of edu­ca­tion, the greater your earn­ings and your sense of “per­son­al mas­tery” or being in con­trol of your fate, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers say. But wait: there’s a down­side.

Pro­fes­sor Scott Schie­man, Cana­da Research Chair in the Social Con­texts of Health, and PhD stu­dent Atsushi Nar­isa­da inves­ti­gat­ed the adverse effects asso­ci­at­ed with attain­ing a high degree of mas­tery. Using the Cana­di­an Work, Stress, and Health Study (CANWSH), a nation­al sam­ple of Cana­di­an work­ers, the researchers mea­sured pro­fi­cien­cy, or mas­tery, by ask­ing study par­tic­i­pants how much they agree or dis­agree with state­ments such as: “You have lit­tle con­trol over the things that hap­pen to you” and “You often feel help­less in deal­ing with prob­lems of life.”

The study con­firms that uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates in Cana­da report the high­est sense of mas­tery, main­ly due to their above-aver­age earn­ings and low­er expo­sure to finan­cial strain. How­ev­er, these well-edu­cat­ed peo­ple are also more like­ly to encounter over­work, job pres­sure and work-to-fam­i­ly con­flict. And, in turn, each of these stres­sors actu­al­ly under­mines mas­tery.

“Were it not for the fact that high­ly edu­cat­ed indi­vid­u­als report more job demands and con­flict between work and fam­i­ly roles they would have even high­er lev­els of mas­tery,” says Schie­man. “While edu­ca­tion is extreme­ly crit­i­cal for mas­tery, high­er edu­ca­tion­al attain­ment also appears to intro­duce stres­sors that can damp­en the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits.”

These pat­terns rep­re­sent what Schie­man has called “the stress of high­er sta­tus” – a process in which stres­sors asso­ci­at­ed with high­er sta­tus off­set the rewards that often accom­pa­ny it.

“We also learned that work­ers who expe­ri­ence exces­sive on-the-job pres­sure feel less in con­trol of their lives, pri­mar­i­ly due to the con­flict trig­gered between work and per­son­al or fam­i­ly life,” says Schie­man. “In fact, stress in the work-fam­i­ly inter­face pos­es the biggest threat to Cana­di­ans’ sense of mas­tery.”

The study also found that work­ers who engage in more work-fam­i­ly mul­ti­task­ing feel a low­er sense of mas­tery due to the con­flict gen­er­at­ed between the two roles.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions
Tel: 416–946-5025

Scott Schie­man
Pro­fes­sor and Cana­da Research Chair (Social Con­texts of Health)
Depart­ment of Soci­ol­o­gy
Tel: 416–946-5905