Does Having Authority Really Depress Women?

Now I'm really depressed.

A new study finds that job authority increases depression in women, and decreases them in men.

Can't we ever catch a break?!

“Women with job authority — the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay — have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power,” said Tetyana Pudrovska, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and the lead author of the study, at “In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.”

I guess I could see why.  Women -- or at least I -- agonize over difficult decisions like having to tell someone they're not performing, or firing them.  I won't say men do it without even thinking about it, but I bet it's quite different for them.

Maybe it's because we tend to have the empathic skills (or are too sensitive?).

According to Pudrovska, women without job authority exhibit slightly more symptoms of depression on average than men without job authority (I can certainly relate to that -- when I reported to a boss, I absolutely hated it and that's why freelancing works for me).

But among people with the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay, women typically exhibit many more symptoms of depression than men, the study found.  The one or two times I've been in a position of authority, I'm ashamed to say, I abused it. Because I'm not much of a team player, I never knew how to be patient and conciliatory, especially when my employees weren't working as hard or as fast as I thought they should be.   Because I got things done immediately, I expected others to do that, too, never making allowances for differences in temperament and working style.

Fortunately, I didn't last long.

You would think, though, that women in authority, are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health.   They tend to have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority.

"Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women," Pudrovska says.

So why does having job authority increase symptoms of depression in women, but decrease them in men?

I was actually wrong.  “Years of social science research suggests that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues, and superiors,” Pudrovska said.

And yes, I've seen this, too.  Have a man ask a subordinate to do something and it's done instantly.  Have a woman, and it might take a little more time.

“Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders. But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress.”

Men in authority, on the other hand, generally deal with fewer stressors because they do not have to overcome the resistance and negative stereotypes that women often face. “Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs, and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate,” she says. “This increases men’s power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict."

Now, I was in the working world in the '80s and 90's and this seems a little outdated even for then.  Women were more and more in leadership positions and today you'd be hard-pressed, I think, to find a male subordinate resisting a female.  Maybe there might be a little resentment, or antagonism, but we're everywhere, and we're in power and young men and women entering the workforce today are about as equal as you can get.

Even IBM -- which, when I was there, was all dark suit, yellow power tie and wingtips, all foreboding authority -- is now run by a woman.  That pretty much says it all, to me.   


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