Why Getting Promoted Might Actually Make You Depressed

Illustrated by Tyler Spangler.
We often feel like making it to the top of the ladder, getting the corner-office desk, and sitting at the head of the table (among other furniture-based clichés) should be our goal. We imagine achieving all that would feel excellent. But, while that appears to be the case for men, a new study suggests the effects are different for women.
The study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to examine how changes in job responsibilities correlate with changes in health. Specifically, they looked at people's levels of "job authority," defined as their ability to hire and fire other people as well as influence others' pay. To examine the boss-depression correlation, researchers compared the levels of job authority that 1,302 men and 1,507 women had at age 54 in 1993 with their levels of depression between that time and age 65 in 2004.
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Their results showed that, for men, higher job authority was associated with lower levels of depression. But, the opposite was found for women: Those with job authority had higher levels of depression than those without. Men with job authority, however, actually had the lowest level of depression of any group in the study.
The researchers conclude that this difference is due to the fact that, even when holding similar positions, men and women are perceived and treated differently in the workplace. This leads to "a workplace environment in which exercising job authority exposes women to chronic interpersonal stressors that undermine the health benefits of job authority." And, this is something that's been reflected in previous research: A recent Gallup poll suggested that people still prefer male bosses over female ones, indicating that the climate is more challenging for ladies with authority.
However, the study was just correlational. So, we don't know for sure what caused the connection here — or the gender difference. And, women in general are more likely to have depression than men. But, the work connection is definitely still important, considering how much of our lives we spend at and obsessing over our jobs. So, if women are going to have any hope of creating a work-life balance, we might want to start by addressing the gender imbalance where we work.
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