Heterogeneous gender gaps in mental wellbeing: Do women with low economic status face the biggest gender gaps?

Type Journal Article - Social Science & Medicine
Title Heterogeneous gender gaps in mental wellbeing: Do women with low economic status face the biggest gender gaps?
Volume 332
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2023
Page numbers 1-9
URL https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.116133
Gender differences in depression are globally documented across a wide range of studies that analyse self-reports of depressive symptoms or clinical diagnoses. Extensive research fails to identify any single reason for this finding but given systematic variation in depressive symptomatology across social groups, gender differences must derive at least partly from environmental or social factors. Among the social factors that are considered most important are those relating to gender differences in socio-economic status and the underlying gender division of labor. In this study, we add to existing research by interrogating heterogeneity in gender differences in mental health. Studies that investigate environmental factors typically consider these only in relation to the average gender gap in depression. We use a novel sorting and classification method (Chernozhukov et al., 2018) that makes it possible to map the full distribution of gender differences in depressive symptomatology among comparable women and men. Although we cannot attribute causality, the method allows us to isolate those social factors that are distinctive to women who experience the largest gender gap in depressive symptoms compared to those who exhibit the smallest. The study analyses detailed nationally representative micro-data from South Africa, a country with high rates of poverty, which are higher still among women. As is common elsewhere, women report significantly more depressive symptoms than men, and low socio-economic status is correlated with poor mental health. However, women with low socio-economic status are not relatively more concentrated among women who face the largest gender gap in depressive symptomatology. These findings would not be consistent with the hypothesis that women have a greater tendency than men to ruminate over economic hardship and could rather point to resilience and a “steeling effect” among poor women.

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