There has been a great deal of research showing that women in the United States suffer from depression and anxiety at higher rates than men—by some accounts they are twice as likely to be diagnosed as depressed.
Numerous explanations are given for the differences, with many focusing on hormones, but research by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health finds that the wage gap may also be a culprit in the mental health disparities between women and men.
Mailman researchers found that:
- Women whose income was lower than their male counterparts were nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to depressed, and four times more likely to experience anxiety.
- Yet women whose incomes were greater than their male counterparts had anxiety and depression levels equal to that of men.
Researchers compared men and women with the same education levels, occupation, and family composition, among other factors.
“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,” says Katherine Keyes, assistant professor of Epidemiology and senior author of the study.
“Our findings suggest that policies must go beyond prohibiting overt gender discrimination,” she adds. “While it is commonly believed that gender differences in depression and anxiety are biologically rooted, these results suggest that such differences are much more socially constructed than previously thought, indicating that gender disparities in psychiatric disorders are malleable and arise from unfair treatment.”
Keyes also notes that policies such as paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and flexible work schedules may alleviate some of the mental challenges women are struggling with.
“Greater attention to the fundamental mechanisms that perpetuate wage disparities is needed,” says Keyes, “not only because it is unjust, but so that we may understand and be able to intervene to reduce subsequent health risks and disparities.”