Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

A new piece of research from the Psychology Department of the University of Texas in Austin suggests that women in positions of authority in the workplace may be more likely than others to experience symptoms of depression.

Interestingly, the paper, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, entitled Gender, Job Authority and Depression concomitantly shows that similar positions of authority are associated with fewer symptoms of depression in men.

Participants were sourced from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (begun in 1957) and data were gathered for this study between 1993 and 2004.

Over 1500 women and 1300 men (by 1993 around 54 years old) were interviewed and their positions at work recorded. Over the course of the nine years to 2004 the relationship between their level of authority at work and symptoms of depression were monitored.

The results were unexpected. According to present understanding, women in powerful positions should have scored lower on depression symptoms, since they display what are thought to be the strongest predictors of positive mental health – higher income, better education, more prestigious occupations and higher levels of autonomy than women in positions of lower authority.

But this was not the case. Team leader, Tatyana Pudrovska, commenting on the findings, noted:

“Women with job authority – the ability to hire, fire and influence pay have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power.”

By contrast, the researchers found that men in authoritative positions at work showed fewer symptoms of depression than men in positions of lower authority and then, fewer symptoms of depression  than women in similar positions of authority.

So what’s going on here? Is it simply wild-west research, Texan-style – i.e. the patronising answer? Do women in positions of authority in the workplace experience more discrimination, and therefore depression, than men in similar positions – i.e. the politically correct answer? Or could it be that men and women have different sets of natural endowments which make them innately more suited to, and therefore more comfortable in, different  types of roles – i.e. the answer that dare not speak its name?


Written by Jacqui Hogan