Mental health in women linked to gender pay gap

The gender pay gap could be impacting women’s mental health, according to a new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study surveyed 22,581 working American adults, matching women and men by factors such as age, education, occupation and family composition.

It found that among women whose income was lower than their male counterparts, the odds of major depression were nearly two-and-a-half times higher and the odds of anxiety were more than four times higher.

Yet, when women’s income was greater than their male counterparts, women’s odds for having anxiety or depression was nearly equivalent to men.

“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, a PhD student in epidemiology and the first author of the paper.

“The social processes that sort women into certain jobs, compensate them less than equivalent male counterparts, and create gender disparities in domestic labour that have material and psychosocial consequences.”

According to the study, for every dollar an American man makes, his equally qualified female counterpart makes just 82 cents.

The gender pay gap widens at higher incomes: the 94th percentile of women earners made 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

“Our findings suggest that policies must go beyond prohibiting overt gender discrimination,” said Katherine Keyes, assistant professor of epidemiology and senior author.

Such policies, she said, could include paid parental leave, affordable childcare and flexible work schedules, although more research into understanding the ways in which discrimination plays a role in mental health outcomes is necessary.

“Greater attention to the fundamental mechanisms that perpetuate wage disparities is needed, not only because it is unjust, but so that we may understand and be able to intervene to reduce subsequent health risks and disparities,” she added.