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Are Male Leaders Less Depressed Than Female Leaders?


A recent study from the University of Texas at Austin asked participants about their level of job authority, (their power to hire, terminate, and influence pay) and symptoms of depression. The data revealed big differences between male and female leaders.


(Photo Credit: gabriele82/Flickr)

Here are a few of the findings:

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1. Women without job authority have slightly higher rates of depression than men without job authority.

This is interesting because alongside the other results of the study, it suggests that the 1,300 women surveyed, as compared against the 1,500 men, reported more depression overall. The question becomes, why is there this notable gender difference?

However, the most fascinating aspect of the research is revealed as women and men climb further up the leadership and job authority ladder…

2. Women with job authority typically exhibit many more symptoms of depression than men who also have job authority.

Unlike the first item, this part of the research revealed a large differential. Women in leadership positions experienced many more symptoms of depression than their male counterparts. Tetyana Pudrovska, who coauthored the study explained:

“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. 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.”

3. As women’s job authority increased, so did their symptoms of depression, whereas the opposite effect was experienced by men.

It’s logical to expect that as success increases, positive feelings increase. This was generally the case for men. Pudrovska commented:

“What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health. These women 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.”

Kit Steinkellner reviewed this research in a recent article. She noted the ever-present catch-22 facing professional women. Not only do women have to work harder than men to get to the same place, but once they find themselves there they find a lose-lose conundrum awaits them. If you behave in a traditionally “feminine” way, your ability to lead will be called into question. And, if you adapt more traditionally “masculine” leadership traits, you’ll be judged more negatively than men when interacting in the same way.

At the end of the day, this research is yet another bit of evidence that shows the need to move our culture toward greater equality for women. This issue is broad and deep, and it seems that our female leaders might just be absorbing a great deal of the brunt.

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