Male or Female Bosses? The Sex Which Gets More Depressed From Work

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How more authority at work affects depressive symptoms in men and women.

Depression is much higher amongst female bosses than male bosses, finds a new US survey of how the sexes respond to having authority at work.

Dr. Tetyana Pudrovska, the study’s first author, explained:

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

In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.”

The study, which is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, followed 1,500 middle-aged women and 1,300 middle-aged men who all graduated from high schools in Wisconsin (Pudrosvska & Karraker, 2014).

The men and women were surveyed in 1993 and 2004 to look at the link between how much authority they had at work and any symptoms of depression.

The results showed that amongst men and women with lower levels of authority at work, women had slightly higher levels of depression.

This is normal since overall women suffer from depression slightly more than men.

Amongst men and women with higher levels of authority at work, however, it was women who had many more symptoms of depression than men.

Men in authority actually had a 10% lower risk of depression, while authority increased the risk of women having depressive symptoms by 9%.

Dr. Pudrovska continued:

“What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health.

These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority.

Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women.”

The cause of this discrepancy is not known but Dr. Pudrovska thinks it is partly down to women having to fight sexist perceptions on top of the usual stressors.

“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.

Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders.

But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine.

This contributes to chronic stress.”

Men, on the other hand, do not have to face these kind of negative stereotypes about their abilities:

“Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs, and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate.

This increases men’s power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict.”

Image credit: Nathan O’Nions

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Published: 26 November 2014

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Images: Creative Commons License