Powerful Women Are More Likely to Be Depressed

Photo: HBO

Today’s sad if not altogether surprising social-science finding on gender: Having authority at work seems to increase signs of depression in women, though it has the opposite effect on men, according to a new study from the American Sociological Association, published online in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Researchers came to this conclusion using questionnaires from 1,300 men and 1,500 women from a long-term social-science survey, the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, to track their changes in job status and depression symptoms beginning in 1993 through 2004. 

On paper, this doesn’t add up. These women were highly educated, with both higher income and higher job satisfaction than their peers — all signs that should point to strong mental health. But real life is messier than that. The study didn’t examine the reasons why these women showed more signs of depression than their male counterparts, but the researchers believe it could be due to the tension that comes along with acting against gender expectations. “Years of social science research suggests that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues, and superiors,” lead author Tetyana Pudrovska, a University of Texas at Austin sociologist, said in the press release. “Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress.” Sounds about right. Pudrovska hopes her findings will highlight this gender problem in the workplace so that organizations can start to find ways to address it.