Could The Wage Gap Be Responsible For Your Anxiety?

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common flavors of mental illness, but women are diagnosed with those conditions more often than men. And a new study suggests that might be linked to another unfortunate gender difference: the wage gap.

For the study, published in this month's Social Science & Medicine, researchers looked at income and mental health data for 22,581 people between the ages of 30-65. All of this information came from a nationally representative survey performed between 2001-2002.

The researchers found that, as previous research has noted, women were more likely to report experiencing depression and anxiety than men. But, in particular, they found that women who saw the most severe gender wage gap — those with the widest income difference between their male counterparts — were 2.43 times more likely to report having experienced depression, and 4.42 times more likely to have anxiety. Also, the rates of both depression and anxiety in women decreased as wages between genders were more equalized.

"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," said Jonathan Platt, PhD, lead author on the study, in a press release. "The social processes that sort women into certain jobs, compensate them less than equivalent male counterparts...have material and psychosocial consequences."

This isn't exactly surprising, but there are a few reasons to be cautious about interpreting the results. The data from the study was collected over a decade ago now, and from only one year. So we can't necessarily see how things have changed or how relevant those numbers are today. The study also doesn't take into account the idea that part of the gender differences in mood disorders may be due to men being less likely to seek help, which is especially concerning when we look at how much more often men die by suicide than women.

And there's also the pesky problem of causation and correlation: Just because women are diagnosed with mood disorders and paid less than men doesn't necessarily mean one issue causes the other, even if the two are closely related. Instead, as the authors suggest, widespread gender discrimination could make women more vulnerable to those mood disorders. And, for those of us already at risk for developing them due to our family history, this could be especially toxic. Now we have yet another reason to close the gender wage gap.
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