Study finds the wage gap could literally be depressing women

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According to a new study, women who earn less then men for doing the same work aren't just hurting materially—they're hurting emotionally, as well.

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at the mental health of more than 22,500 working people between the ages of 30 and 65 in 2001-2002, and charted instances of depression and anxiety against structural inequality in the workplace. Their findings, explained in a statement from Mailman, are enlightening (emphasis ours):

The odds that an American woman was diagnosed with depression in the past year are nearly twice that of men. However, this disparity looks very different when accounting for the wage gap: Among women whose income was lower than their male counterparts, the odds of major depression were nearly 2.5 times higher than men; but among women whose income equaled or exceeded their male counterparts, their odds of depression were no different than men.


The researchers also found women who earned less than comparable male counterparts were more than four times more susceptible to generalized anxiety disorder, and that women who made as much as or more than men were not more likely to suffer from the disorder. Overall, say the researchers, women were 2.5 times more likely to have been afflicted by anxiety than men in the past year.

Their paper is published in the January 2016 issue of Social Science & Medicine.

Author Jonathan Platt explained in a statement that "The social processes that sort women into certain jobs, compensate them less than equivalent male counterparts, and create gender disparities in domestic labor have material and psychosocial consequences." He added that sexism in the workplace may play a role: "If women internalize these negative experiences as reflective of inferior merit, rather than the result of discrimination, they may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders."

Women earn, on average, 78 cents for every male dollar. CNN Money explains that even this sobering statistic understates how unfairly working minority women and mothers are treated:

Black women make 64 cents and Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. There's also what [Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center] refers to as the "motherhood penalty": mothers tend to make even less than women who don't have children.


Considering that diversity programs might not actually work all that well, throwing money at this problem might just solve it.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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