Jobs Affect Depression Risk Differently in Men and Women

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A job can increase the risk of depression in both men and women, but for different reasons, a new study from Canada suggests.

Women in the study who felt they were not appreciated at their job, or were not appropriately rewarded for their efforts, had an increased risk of depression, compared with women who felt they were rewarded appropriately, the study showed. No such link was found in men.

On the other hand, a high amount of job strain increased the risk of depression in men working full time, but not in women.

Conflicts between family and work influenced depression risk for both sexes, but in different ways. Men were at increased risk of depression if their family life got in the way of their work life, while women were at increased risk of depression if their work life interfered with their family life.

The findings agree with previous studies suggesting that achievements at work play a bigger role in men's identity than in women's, the researchers say.

Even though more women are in the work force, and more men take family responsibilities, "men and women, they may view their family role or their work differently," said study researcher JianLi Wang, an associate professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

Wang and colleagues surveyed about 2,700 men and women living in Alberta between 2008 and 2011 who were not currently depressed. Participants were followed to see if they developed depression. They also answered questions about their jobs, such as their level of job strain and whether they felt adequately rewarded for their efforts.

After a year, 3.6 percent of participants were diagnosed with depression. The incidence of depression was higher in women with 4.5 percent developing the condition, compared with 2.9 percent of men.

Women who worked full time (35 to 40 hours a week) had an increased risk of developing depression. Men who worked full time had an increased risk of depression only if their job had a high level of strain. Eleven percent of men who worked full time and had high job strain developed depression, compared with 1.5 percent of men who worked full time and did not have high job strain.

Worrying about losing a job increased the risk of depression in both men and women.

Major depressive disorder has a significant impact on the health of employees, and affects job performance, Wang said.

Employers should monitor the magnitude of these factors, such as job strain, in order to prevent their full-blown negative effects, Wang said.

Future studies with more people are needed to confirm the results. Larger studies may also aid in the development of strategies for employers to prevent depression in employees, the researchers said.

The study was published May 3 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.