Relationship functioning and home and work demands predict individual differences in diurnal cortisol patterns in women

Emma K. Adam, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

245 Scopus citations


In 70 middle-class mothers of 2-year-old children, individual differences in mothers' morning cortisol levels, cortisol decreases across the day and average cortisol levels were predicted from demographic and medical control variables, maternal relationship functioning and home and work demands. For two days, salivary cortisol levels were measured in the morning immediately after wakeup, four times in the afternoon, and in the evening immediately prior to bedtime. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) growth curve analyses were used to estimate the intercept (early morning level), slope (steepness of decline in cortisol values across the day), and the average height of each mother's cortisol curve across the waking hours. HLM and multiple regression techniques were then used to predict individual differences in these parameters from the variables of interest. Time of day accounted for 72% of the variation in mothers' observed cortisol values across the day. After controlling for demographic and medical variables, positive relationship functioning was associated with higher morning cortisol levels and a steeper decline in cortisol across the day, while greater hours of maternal employment and a greater number of children in the household were associated with lower morning cortisol values and a less steep decline in cortisol levels across the day. Variables predicting higher morning values also predicted higher average cortisol levels, while variables predicting lower morning cortisol predicted lower average cortisol levels. The full model including selected control, relationship functioning and home and work demand variables accounted for 40% of the variance in mothers' morning cortisol values, 43% of the variance in cortisol slopes and 35% of the variability in mothers' average cortisol levels. This study presents the first evidence of associations between psychological variables and individual differences in the organization of cortisol levels across the waking day in normal adult women. Copyright (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-208
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the women who generously volunteered their time to participate in this research. We would like to thank Laurie Brodersen and the graduate and undergraduate students who assisted with data collection for this study, and the Endocrine Laboratory at the University of Minnesota for conducting the salivary cortisol assays. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers who provided valuable feedback on this manuscript. This research was supported by doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships to the first author from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago and by a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award (MH00946) to the second author.


  • Cortisol
  • Diurnal rhythms
  • Employment
  • Relationships
  • Stress
  • Women


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