Having grown up in Asia, I’m used to the tradition of extended families under one roof. There were advantages and disadvantage to this type of family structure. The advantage is the availability of help when help is needed. Grandmothers take care of grandchildren while the parents work. It also saves money on household costs. The disadvantage is that as the older generation age, they would need care and attention that would add to the financial burden to the younger generation. Another disadvantage is stress. When living within a closed setting in cramped quarters, tension and stress tend to build up.
This study on Japanese lifestyle showed that women living in multigenerational households with children and grandparents had to two to three times higher likelihood of having a heart disease.
The study is based data from 90, 987 men and women (40 to 69 years old) followed up to 14 years. The participants were healthy and without serious health problems at the start of the study. By the time the study ended in 2004, 671 participants had coronary heart disease (CHD) and 339 had died of the condition. The incidence of CHD was much higher in multigenerational households. And the reason for this is probably stress. In Japan, women tend to go work outside the house but are still expected to perform household duties on a full-time basis.
The study reports:
“…women living in multi-generational households (living with spouse-children-parents; or spouse-parents) had 2.0 to 3.0-fold higher risk of coronary heart disease compared to women living with spouses only. Women living with spouses and children also had 2.1-fold higher risk of coronary heart disease incidence compared to married women living without children…Women in a multi-generational family had a higher risk of coronary heart disease incidence, probably due to stress from multiple family roles.”
Although the study was conducted in Japan on a Japanese study population, American health experts believe this trend is also slowly emerging in the US. According to Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City
“Women are becoming more educated and are more and more in the work force, yet culturally they still are the caretakers of the family… there is an enormous amount of stress and pressure required to do all these things.”
With the current economic situation, extended families are forced to live together in order to save on costs – cost for childcare and cost for old age care. In the end, it all falls on the women’s shoulders to juggle between job and extended family.
“…caring for others can increase the risk of heart disease… We should incorporate this potential risk factor into our screening, and refer women for support services when needed,” according to Dr. Lori Mosca, a physician scientist at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
This Christmas, families come together to celebrate. Let us take care that this season of cheer does not turn into a season of stress.