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The Fulfillment of Career Dreams at Midlife: Does it Matter for Women's Mental Health?

Deborah Carr
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), pp. 331-344
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2955429
Page Count: 14
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The Fulfillment of Career Dreams at Midlife: Does it Matter for Women's Mental Health?
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Abstract

This paper examines whether a woman's mental health at midlife is affected by the degree to which her earlier career aspirations have been fulfilled. Two dimensions of mental health are considered: depression and purpose in life. Based on data for 3,499 female respondents to the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), the results indicate that women who have fallen short of their earlier career goals suffer from lower levels of purpose in life and higher levels of depression, even after controlling for social background, human capital, family, and health characteristics. For purpose in life, the harmful effects of falling short of one's goal attenuate considerably when current family characteristics are controlled. For depression, the harmful effects of falling short of one's goal decline considerably once health characteristics are considered. Although women who aspired to be housewives evidenced lower levels of purpose in life at midlife than women with work aspirations, this difference was not statistically significant once human capital characteristics were controlled. Women who, at age 35, "did not know" what they hoped to do in the future had significantly lower levels of purpose in life in their 50s, even after controlling for social background, human capital, family, and health characteristics.

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