Female bosses more prone to depression than male counterparts, study says

A new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior offers evidence that gender discrimination can negatively impact the mental health of people with authority at work.

The study, published in the December issue of the journal, reveals that having more responsibility in the workplace contributes to depression among women, while it decreases the condition in men.

"Women with job authority— the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay— have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power," lead author Tetyana Pudrovska, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a news release. "In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power."

The study draws data from more than 1,300 middle-aged men and 1,500 middle-aged women who graduated from high schools in Wisconsin. Study participants responded to phone interviews and mail questionnaires. The researchers considered men and women with and without the ability to hire, fire and influence pay.

In their analysis, scientists were most surprised to find that the female study participants with job authority had all the factors of positive mental health despite showing depressive symptoms.

"These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority,” Pudrovska said. “Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women."

Women without job authority exhibit slightly more depressive symptoms than men without job authority, but the difference was even more pronounced when researchers compared women to men who have job authority.

Researchers suspect that women with authority are more prone to develop depressive-like behavior because compared to men, they’re more subject to negative social interactions and stereotypes, prejudice, and interpersonal tension among subordinates, colleagues and superiors.

"Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders,” Pudrovska said in the news release. “But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress.”

Men, on the other hand, typically deal with fewer stressors because they face fewer negative stereotypes than women.

"Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs,” Pudrovska added, “and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate. This increases men's power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict."