Being the boss requires a lot of responsibility and wielding that type of power is definitely a stressful gig, but according to a new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, women in positions of authority displayed more depressive symptoms than their male counterparts.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin interviewed 1300 middle aged male graduates and 1,500 middle aged female graduates from Wisconsin high schools in 1993 and in 2004. The researchers asked the participants about "job authority" and how often they felt symptoms of depression such as "feeling sad and thinking one's life is a failure." The study controlled for other factors like hours worked per week, whether people had flexible hours, and if they were micromanaged by supervisors.
While the study found that women without job authority exhibited slightly more depressive symptoms than men without job authority, it also found that women with the ability to hire, fire and influence pay exhibited far more symptoms of depression than men. Co-author of the study Tetyana Pudrovska stated, via University of Texas:
Years of social science research suggest that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues and superiors," Pudrovska said. "Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders. But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress."
While I'm sure some would love to argue that women endure more stress because "they cannot handle authority," that's clearly not what's going on. Obviously women can handle the authority and are willing to sacrifice some mental wellness for it. But it's not because authority itself affects women. It seems the same social stigma that women overcome in order to attain positions of power can still stand in women's way when it comes to mental health. The narrow definition of success and leadership that has often straight up excluded women may just bite us in the ass. Again.
In terms of the study's policy implications, Pudrovska said the findings indicate "we need to address gender discrimination, hostility and prejudice against women leaders to reduce the psychological costs and increase the psychological rewards of higher-status jobs for women."
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