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Disparities between men and women in minor mental health problems may reflect differences in social roles

Many studies have suggested that women have more minor mental health problems such as anxiety and depression than men. However, often these studies have not taken into account the distribution of social roles, that is, the different contexts in which women and men live and work. For this reason, generalizations about sex-based differences in minor mental health problems can be unhelpful, according to a study by British researchers. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS06516).

The researchers distributed questionnaires to men and women working in white collar jobs in three organizations (government agency, bank, and university) in the United Kingdom. They examined mental health problems using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ); demographic variables, including access to a car and home ownership; and occupational grade within the organization.

In each organization, women were overrepresented in the lowest grades and underrepresented in the higher grades. In the university, 93 percent of clerical workers, 27 percent of technical workers, and 22 percent of academics were female; in the bank, 72 percent of clerical workers, 35 percent of supervisors, and 8 percent of managers were female; and in the government sample, 72 percent of clerical workers (low grades), 30 percent of executive and professional workers (middle grades), and 11 percent of administrators (high grades) were female.

After adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics, women in all three organizations had higher GHQ rates (more minor mental health problems) than men, but the differences were not great. The researchers conclude that men and women continue to work in very different occupations, particularly in Western Europe, and that studies of mental health differences should take into account their different work and life situations.

More details are in "Gender differences in mental health: Evidence from three organizations," by Carol Emslie, Rebecca Fuhrer, Kate Hunt, and others, in Social Science & Medicine 54, pp. 621-624, 2002.

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