I was very happy to visit my local library to pick up my long awaited copy of “The Sources of Stress on the Wives of Commercial Airline Pilots”, published in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, April 1985. Because of the age of the study (24 years), I was curious to see if the stressors then were the same as what I perceive as stressors now. Sadly, they are similar.
The study was done by British researchers on wives of members of the British Airline Pilots Association. Sixty percent of the pilots were employed with British Airways and just over half of the pilots were Captains. The purpose of the study was to asses the impact of the pilot’s job on the personal and life satisfaction of his wife.
Then, as now, the number one stressor was “domestic role overload”. No surprise there. Feeling like a one parent family, difficulty involving husband in this he has missed and feeling rejection and upset when husband is tired all made the list. “Fear of Husband’s Job Loss” came in second on the list. “Threats to Marital Relationship”, “Distance from Husband’s Career”, and “Job’s Impact on Social Life” rounded out the 5 major factors. Looking at any pilot wife forum today, these five topics come up repeatedly.
Surprising to me, lack of communication during time away was not mentioned in the survey. I would have expected that in the time before things like cell phones, instant messaging and skype that communication would have been very limited and that would be a stressor for wives as well. With modern communication, it is much easier and cheaper to stay in touch and involved.
Researchers also found that working wives were less vulnerable to the stress and life dissatisfaction than full- time housewives. They hypothesize that pursuing one’s own career achievements is seen as a positive source of personal and life satisfaction that counters some of the negative aspects of being a pilot wife. They also found that wives of pilots who work for smaller airlines experienced more dissatisfaction than those of pilots of larger airlines. This was linked to the work demands and schedules of smaller airlines where were less regular and more changeable and thus more disruptive to family life.
The overall conclusion was “it would appear that the wife of a pilot most at risk of personal and life dissatisfaction is a full-time housewife who feels that her husband’s job places undue strains on her in terms of her domestic role without the compensations of a satisfactory social life. This may be exacerbated by the fact that her husband may be working for a small airline and that the industry may be contracting, placing her husband at risk of job loss.”
If you want to read the article yourself, any librarian should be able to help you special order it based on the citation I gave at the top of the post.