Women with leadership roles suffer more from depression than men

Christina Noriega

While the number of women in top managerial positions has increased in the last 30 years, women with leadership roles suffer more from depression and stress than their male counterparts, according to a recent UT study.

The study, co-authored by sociology assistant professor Tatyana Pudrovska and Amelia Karraker, an assistant professor at Iowa State University, compared women’s experiences in managerial positions to their male counterparts’ experiences for 11 years. The study focused on more than 1,500 women and more than 1,300 men who had the authority to hire and fire employees and determine their salary and work activities.

According to the study, women and men without a leadership position in the workplace faced similar incidents of depression symptoms such as “feeling sad, feeling depressed, thinking one’s life has been a failure, and feeling that people were unfriendly.”

Differences in mental health were only noticeable among women and men in top managerial positions, Pudrovska said in an email.

“Our most interesting finding is that job authority decreases men’s depression but increases women’s depression,” Pudrovska said. “More specifically, women with the authority to hire, fire and influence pay have significantly higher depression than women without job authority. In contrast, men with job authority have lower depression than men without job authority.”

Pudrovska said this disparity in mental health could be attributed to various challenges women face in the workplace when exhibiting leadership skills, such as negative social interactions, negative stereotypes and resistance from subordinates, colleagues and superiors.

“Higher-status women are evaluated more stringently compared to male coworkers and are often exposed to overt and subtle gender discrimination and harassment,” Pudrovska said. “This contributes to chronic stress that can undermine or even reverse the health benefits of job authority.” 

While past studies have examined the wage gap between women and men in managerial positions, few researchers have looked at the psychological differences among women and men in these positions, Pudrovska said.

“Focusing on how women fare in positions of authority — on their well-being in positions of authority — is crucial and timely because women leaders are key players in changing the landscape of organizations and the work context for other women,” Pudrovska said. “It is important not only to increase women’s access to leadership positions but also to make sure that women stay there. Retention should also be a priority.”

David Ochsner, College of Liberal Arts spokesman, said he had seen more departments across colleges cover gender equity issues at the University. He said recently various sociology professors had covered the topic, garnering positive national attention.

“When they do these kind of studies, they’re noticed and they’re talked about nationally,” Ochsner said.