A woman works in an office
A woman works in an office in this undated file photo. Reuters

Women who earn less than men suffer more major depressive disorders and generalised anxiety disorders. According to a new research conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, equal level of education and experience do not automatically mean equal pay, consequently causing the disorders.

Based on the data gathered from 22,581 working adults aged 30 to 65 years, the study, published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, claims that women are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from depression than men when receiving lower pay. Surprisingly, women who receive equal or higher wages still have the same chances of getting depressed.

Moreover, women are four times more likely to suffer generalised anxiety disorder when receiving less pay. However, the researchers noted that the odds of anxiety disorder were greatly decreased with women whose income were the same or higher than men’s.

According to study author Jonathan Platt, a student in the Department of Epidemiology, the results show that some of the gender disparities in depression and anxiety may be stemming from the effects of structural gender inequality in the workforce and beyond the social processes that group women into certain jobs, where women are compensated less than their male counterparts. These will also create gender differences in domestic labour that will cause material and psychosocial consequences.

Senior author Katherine Keyes, an assistant professor of Epidemiology, remarked that policies must go beyond prohibiting obvious gender discrimination like sexual harassment. Gender differences in depression and anxiety are believed to be biologically rooted, but with this new research, such differences are shown to be more socially constructed than previously thought.

Keyes added that these problems may be alleviated through policies such as affordable childcare, paid parental leave and flexible work schedules. The researchers acknowledge that more research is needed to further understand how discrimination causes mental health problems.

"Structural forms of discrimination may explain a substantial proportion of gender disparities in mood and anxiety disorders in the U.S. adult population," said Keyes. "Greater attention to the fundamental mechanisms that perpetuate wage disparities is needed, not only because it is unjust, but so that we may understand and be able to intervene to reduce subsequent health risks and disparities."