Open Access Open Badges Research article

Applying the effort-reward imbalance model to household and family work: a population-based study of German mothers

Stefanie Sperlich1*, Richard Peter2 and Siegfried Geyer1

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Sociology, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg Str. 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany

2 Institute of Epidemiology, Ulm, Helmholtzstr. 22, 89081 Ulm, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:12  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-12

Published: 6 January 2012



This paper reports on results of a newly developed questionnaire for the assessment of effort-reward imbalance (ERI) in unpaid household and family work. Methods: Using a cross-sectional population-based survey of German mothers (n = 3129) the dimensional structure of the theoretical ERI model was validated by means of Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA). Analyses of Variance were computed to examine relationships between ERI and social factors and health outcomes.


CFA revealed good psychometric properties indicating that the subscale 'effort' is based on one latent factor and the subscale 'reward' is composed of four dimensions: 'intrinsic value of family and household work', 'societal esteem', 'recognition from the partner', and 'affection from the child(ren)'. About 19.3% of mothers perceived lack of reciprocity and 23.8% showed high rates of overcommitment in terms of inability to withdraw from household and family obligations. Socially disadvantaged mothers were at higher risk of ERI, in particular with respect to the perception of low societal esteem. Gender inequality in the division of household and family work and work-family conflict accounted most for ERI in household and family work. Analogous to ERI in paid work we could demonstrate that ERI affects self-rated health, somatic complaints, mental health and, to some extent, hypertension.


The newly developed questionnaire demonstrates satisfied validity and promising results for extending the ERI model to household and family work.

effort-reward imbalance; household and family work; women; health