Background. Home and work factors have been linked to psychological status, but less is known about their contribution to social inequalities in psychological status. We examine whether social inequalities in psychological distress can be explained by work–home factors and whether the impact of these potential explanatory factors is similar for men and women.
Methods. Data are from the 1958 British birth cohort study. We sought to explain social class differences in psychological distress at age 33. Explanatory factors were classified as work–home roles: i.e. employment, marital status, domestic responsibility, children and elderly care; and work–home characteristics: i.e. job-strain, insecurity, unsocial working hours, youngest child's age, number of children and level of involvement in childcare.
Results. A social gradient in psychological distress was found: odds ratios for classes IV and V v. I and II were 2·65 (men) and 3·02 (women). Work factors had consistently stronger associations with psychological distress and with social class among men than women. Work factors had a greater impact on class differences in psychological distress in men. Associations for home roles and characteristics were less consistent and their combined effect on class differences in distress was negligible for both sexes.
Conclusion. Explanations for the social gradient differ for men and women. Work may be more important for men than women, but the impact of home factors was not strong during the early adulthood of this cohort.