Women who achieve job authority over others are at an increased risk for depression, a new study finds. Job authority is a term sometimes used to describe a work position that includes the responsibility of hiring employees, firing employees and/or deciding how much money employees make for the jobs they perform. Traditionally, attainment of this type of authority is viewed as a perk and a significant status achievement. However, in a study published in December 2014 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers from two U.S. universities concluded that women who attain job authority have a statistically increased chance of developing symptoms of the mood disorder depression.
Depression in Women
Depression is the common term for a group of mental health conditions known more accurately as depressive disorders; along with a second group of conditions called bipolar disorders, these depression-related conditions form a larger category of ailments known as mood disorders. The most well-known depressive disorder, major depression, produces severe, potentially disabling episodes of heavily negative mood changes that last for at least two weeks at a time. Another depressive illness, persistent depressive disorder, produces less severe symptoms that nevertheless exert their negative impact for much longer periods of time (a minimum of two years). Other conditions included in the depressive disorders category include a gender-specific ailment called premenstrual dysphoric disorder and a form of persistent and damaging irritability in children known as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Women have a much higher chance of developing a depressive illness at some point during their adult lives than men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Possible contributors to women’s depression risks include hormonal influences associated with menstruation and menopause, socioeconomic circumstances that broadly favor men over women and the mental health burdens imposed by women’s traditional roles in various forms of personal and social relationships.
As a rule, job authority is associated with the attainment of a supervisory or management position in a company or corporation. Some people with this authority have responsibility only for hiring or firing employees, while others have responsibility only for determining employee wages; a third group of people with job authority have responsibility for hire/fire decisions and for setting employee wages. Benefits of holding a position of authority in a company or corporation commonly include such things as a higher salary, scheduling flexibility, the freedom to make at least some significant independent decisions and the maintenance of a varying work routine that does not contribute to boredom or burnout. However, a person in a position of authority may also have substantially increased stress levels, in addition to encountering serious conflicts with others that can drive baseline stress even higher.
Impact on Women’s Depression Levels
In the study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers from Penn State University and Iowa State University used information from a long-term project called the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to explore and compare the impact of job authority on the depression-related mental health of men and women. This project was begun in 1957. The researchers used data gathered between 1993 and 2004; during that time, the project’s participants ranged in age from 54 (in 1993) to 65 (in 2004). All of the 2,809 participants enrolled in the current study had a European American racial/ethnic background. Women made up slightly more than half of the total group. The researchers preliminarily found that the men enrolled in the study were far more likely to hold positions of job authority than the women. In fact, fully 30 percent of men exercised comprehensive forms of such authority, compared to only 14 percent of women. The researchers used a screening tool called the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale to measure the depression levels among the men and women. They concluded that, for both men and women, the overall depression levels declined between 1993 and 2004. However, they also noticed gender-specific trends among the men and women with job authority. Among the men, the attainment of job authority was associated with a decrease in depression levels. Conversely, among the women, attainment of job authority came with an increase in depression levels. The study’s authors concluded that women who achieve job authority over others often experience a fairly high level of exposure to interpersonal conflict and other sources of stress. In turn, increases in work-related stress can offset the potential health benefits of job authority and lead to a rise in women’s chances of developing depression.