By Leslie Mann
It’s easier when your kids are grown, said Alyson Breathed, 60, a marketing director with a staff of 10. But even after decades of being in management, first in hospitality, now for a public garden, being a woman in authority is stressful, she said.
“We’re still the ones juggling most of the family responsibilities, plus working,” said Breathed, a Fallbrook, Calif., mother of two children and two stepchildren. “After my kids grew up, my mother needed help. Family and work are both insatiable.”
Add pay inequality and the scarcity of women at the top, and it’s no wonder women’s mental health suffers, said Tetyana Pudrovska, sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of “Gender, Job Authority and Depression” in the December 2014 Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
The study said women in authority have more “depressive symptoms” than do men in authority and many more than do women down the ladder. For men, though, the higher the ladder rungs, the fewer depressive symptoms, according to the findings.
Having “authority” included hiring, firing and influencing pay, Pudrovska said. On the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, “depressive symptoms” included feeling tired, lonely, distracted or unable to shake the blues.
The data on 1,302 male and 1,507 female participants are from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which began in 1957. All graduated from Wisconsin high schools, but many have moved out of state since.
“When women have higher incomes and better jobs, they should enjoy better mental health,” Pudrovska said. “Instead, there’s a psychological cost of their authority.” Authority can cause stress, which can trigger depressive symptoms.
Previous studies, according to Pudrovska, overlooked the “gender dimension.” “Male leadership is considered legitimate and expected,” she said. “But when women are leaders, they face resistance and are exposed to overt and subtle gender discrimination and harassment.”