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America’s wage gap is making women sick

Protester and dollar bill.
Reuters/David McNew
This is the problem.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Women in the US (like women just about everywhere) are paid less than their male counterparts. They’re also twice as likely to suffer from depression, which has been blamed on everything from hormone changes during puberty to exposure to violence.

Now, there’s troubling new evidence that links the wage gap to depression: According to study published Dec. 8 in Social Science & Medicinewomen who are as well-educated and well-qualified as their male peers, but get paid less, are more likely to suffer both from major depression and from lower-level anxiety than those who are paid equally.

Researchers at Columbia University surveyed over 22,000 American adults aged between 30 and 65 in both full and part-time work. They then matched pairs of men and women with equal qualifications and education, finding over 9,000 pairs in which men out-earned the women. In this group, women were more than twice as likely to suffer from major depressive disorder in their lifetime. They were four times more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder.

In the groups where women were the higher earners, there was no significant differences between male and female propensity towards major depression.

It’s clear that the gender pay disparities had “material and psychosocial consequences,” lead author Jonathan Platt told a faculty site.

Depression may result when individuals blame themselves for what is really a systemic failure—in this case, unequal compensation for women and men. “If women internalize these negative experiences as individual-level issues, rather than the result of structural discrimination, they may be at increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders,” said Platt.

In 2013, women in the US were paid on average 82 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterpart, the researchers noted. Over time, the gap has gradually narrowed.

But better-educated women experience a bigger gap than those who have studied less. Last year, in the highest-earning percentile of all workers, women earned 79 cents for every $1.

Policies prohibiting overt sexism may well have helped women experience more joy in the workplace than previous generations, the study’s authors said. But as long as compensation remains unequal, their health may pay the price.

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