'Mancession' Portends Depressing Future for Men

Depressed man
(Image credit: stockxpert)

Societal and economic shifts may put more men in Western countries at risk for depression, scientists worry.

"Western men, particularly those with low education levels, will face a difficult road in the 21st century," write the authors of an editorial in the March issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry. "It may be more difficult, on average, for men to adjust to a domestic role than for women to adjust to a work role."

Currently, women have nearly twice the lifetime risk of suffering from major depression, although it's not fully understood why.

A confluence of trends could change this ratio, they write, including fewer job options for men who no longer outearn their partners. As the job options narrow, men begin to assume a more prominent role as caregivers in the home – a role traditionally associated with women. [Study: Women Are in Charge at Home]

The recent economic downturn has been dubbed the "Mancession" for its disproportionate effect on traditional male industries, such as construction and manufacturing. Meanwhile, women are outpacing men in the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees and becoming a larger share of primary household earners.

Men's failure to fulfill the role of breadwinner is associated with greater depression and marital conflict, but if societal expectations are altered, men may experience less distress, write researchers Boadie Dunlop and Tanja Mletzko, both of Emory University School of Medicine.

If men are innately less suited to care for young children and maintain households, then their increased contribution in this area could lead to lowered self-esteem and more depression. However, if women are better equipped to care for young children simply because they learn to be that way, through socialization — rather than because of biological differences between the sexes — it may be possible to help expectant fathers make this transition, they write. [Dads Get Postpartum Depression, Too]

Even so, "men in the changing economy will still face the same risks for depression that women faced in older economies: trapped in a family role from which they cannot escape because of an inability to find employment," the researchers write. 

Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.