wage gap
Anxiety (Panic Disorders, Phobias)
Depression
Mental & Emotional Health

Wage Gap Could Explain Why Women Are More Anxious and Depressed Than Men

The odds of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were markedly greater among women who earned less than their male counterparts, with whom they were matched on education and years of experience, according to research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Results of the study were published online in January 2016 in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

A release from the university reports that the odds that an American woman was diagnosed with depression in the past year are nearly twice that of men. However, this disparity looks very different when accounting for the wage gap: Among women whose income was lower than their male counterparts, the odds of major depression were nearly 2.5 times higher than men; but among women whose income equaled or exceeded their male counterparts, their odds of depression were no different than men.

Results were similar for generalized anxiety disorder. Overall, women’s odds of past-year anxiety were more than 2.5 times higher than men’s. Where women’s incomes were lower than their male counterparts, their odds of anxiety disorder were more than four times higher. For women whose income equaled or exceeded their male counterparts, their odds of anxiety disorder were greatly decreased.

The findings are based on data from a 2001-2002 U.S. population-representative sample of 22,581 working adults ages 30-65. Researchers tested the impact of structural wage disparities on depression and anxiety outcomes, according to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, version IV (DSM-IV).

The release quotes first author Jonathan Platt, a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology, as saying, “Our results show that some of the gender disparities in depression and anxiety may be due to the effects of structural gender inequality in the workforce and beyond. The social processes that sort women into certain jobs, compensate them less than equivalent male counterparts, and create gender disparities in domestic labor have material and psychosocial consequences.”

While the U.S. has passed legislation to address some of the most overt forms of gender discrimination faced by working women, less conspicuous forms of structural discrimination persist. As examples, the researchers refer to the norms, expectations, and opportunities surrounding the types of jobs women occupy and the way those jobs are valued and compensated relative to men.

“If women internalize these negative experiences as reflective of inferior merit, rather than the result of discrimination, they may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders,” says Platt.

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