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Study Suggests New Explanation for Higher Anxiety Rates in Women

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A new study suggests the implications of paying women less than men aren’t just financial — they also take a toll on mental health.

Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression as men are, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A new study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology suggests this disparity may be partially due to the wage gap.

The study, published in the January issue of the journal “Social Science & Medicine,” used data from a 2001–2002 U.S. survey of 22,581 working adults, ages 30–65, to explore the gender disparity in mood disorders.

Researchers found that where female income was less than the matched male counterpart, odds of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were significantly higher among women versus men. The odds of depression were nearly two-and-a-half times higher, and odds of anxiety were more than four times higher. However, when a woman’s income was greater than her male counterpart, her odds for having anxiety or depression was almost equivalent to a man’s.

Past research has looked at biological factors such as hormonal differences to explain the gender disparity in mood disorder diagnoses, but this new study suggests the reasons behind it may be more related to social treatment.

“Our findings suggest that policies must go beyond prohibiting overt gender discrimination,” said Katherine Keyes, assistant professor of Epidemiology and senior author of the paper. “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.”

Policies such as paid parental leave, affordable childcare and flexible work schedules may help lessen the disparity, although the study’s authors say more research into understanding the ways in which discrimination plays a role in mental health is required.

“The social processes that sort women into certain jobs, compensate them less than equivalent male counterparts and create gender disparities in domestic labor that have material and psychosocial consequences,” said Jonathan Platt, a PhD student and co-author of the paper. “If women internalize these negative experiences as individual-level issues, rather than the result of structural discrimination, they may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders.”

To see the full paper, go here

Originally published: January 11, 2016
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