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Downward Mobility Hurts Men More Than Women

Sept. 14, 2005 – Moving down the social ladder during the course of a lifetime may hit men harder than women and raise the risk of depression.

A new British study shows men who were downwardly mobile since birth were more than three times as likely to suffer from depression by age 50 than women who were downwardly mobile. Men who had fallen in social status were also about four times more likely to be depressed as men whose social class remained the same.

Overall, the study showed that more women were depressed and downwardly mobile from birth to midlife than men.

But researchers say the findings suggest that women’s risk of depression is tied to social class at birth, while men’s risk of depression is more closely linked to social status at midlife.

Social Class Linked to Depression Risk

In the study, which appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers followed 503 men and women who were born in 1947 to mothers living in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England.

Researchers recorded information on the family’s social class at birth. Social classes were divided into three groups. Group 1 was described as “most advantaged” and group 3 as “least advantaged.” A change of group status was considered a change in socioeconomic mobility. At age 50, the participants were surveyed to describe their social class at that time and also surveyed about their status when they were 25 years old in order to track their social mobility over time.

The participants also answered questions about their general mental and physical health.

The results showed that overall more women than men were depressed at age 50, and twice as many women as men reported moving down in social class since birth.

While women’s risk of depression at midlife was strongly associated with social class at birth, researchers found the same was not true for men.

Men May Face Different Depression Risks

Men who became downwardly mobile were 3.5 times more likely to be depressed than women who became downwardly mobile. Men who became downwardly mobile were also four times more likely to be depressed as men who remained in the same social class.

Researchers say although living standards generally improved in Britain during the course of the study and the average life expectancy for both men and women increased, the change in Britain’s manufacturing base that began in the late 1970s may have taken a bigger emotional toll on men.

During the change, jobs in manufacturing gave way to jobs in service industries, which tend to employ more women than men. Men who lost skilled and semi-skilled jobs in these industries may have suffered a loss of role identity and self-esteem as well as a loss of income, which caused them to be downwardly mobile and increased the risk of depression.

The researchers also caution that the results seen for the women needed to be interpreted carefully as their socioeconomic class was at times linked to a male partner. Furthermore, the researchers write that “complex social phenomena may also be behind the sex differences seen in our results.”

Posted by: Dr.Health

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