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Although a sense of control at work and home affects people's risk for depression and anxiety, social class also counts

A new study of British civil servants bursts the myth that men's identity is tied more to their role at work and women's to their role at home. It reveals that the level of control at home and work affect men and women differently, but social position affects the extent of the impact.

Women who had little latitude for decisionmaking at work had more than a 40 percent greater risk for depression. Men with the same lack of control had 50 percent greater risk for depression than women and other men who had greater latitude for decisionmaking at work. However, this risk for emotional problems was not evenly distributed across social position. Both men and women in the middle employment grade with low job control were at significantly greater risk for depression than those in the lowest and highest grades. The same pattern was found for anxiety.

Both men and women with low control at home were at substantially greater risk for depression and anxiety. Women with low control at home had over twice the risk for depression of women with high control, even after adjusting for marital status, number of children, and caregiving status. In addition, women in the lowest employment grade with low control at home had significantly higher risk for depression than men across all grades and women in higher grades. Men in the highest grade with low control at home were at higher risk for anxiety than men in lower grades, while women in the lowest grade had a higher risk for anxiety than women in higher grades.

Overall, men and women in the lowest civil service grades had the highest risk for depression and anxiety. This suggests that factors such as social support, life events, and material problems may be influential, according to the University College of London researchers who conducted the study. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS06516) and led by Michael Marmot of University College London. They analyzed data on demographics, work characteristics, and physical and mental health of a large sample of British civil servants (aged 35 to 55 years) who participated in the Whitehall II study which was carried out initially from 1985 to 1988 and then in four subsequent 2-year phases. Data from phases three (1991-1993) and five (1997-1999) were used in this study.

See "The importance of low control at work and home on depression and anxiety: Do these effects vary by gender and social class?" by Joan M. Griffin, Rebecca Fuhrer, Stephen A. Stansfeld, and Michael Marmot, in Social Science & Medicine 52, pp. 783-798, 2002.

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