Could Wage Gap Harm Women’s Mental Health?

Woman holding money and writing down budgetThe wage gap between men and women might account for higher rates of anxiety and depression among women, according to a study published in Social Science & Medicine.

Previous research has shown women tend to experience depression, anxiety, and some other mental health issues at higher rates than men. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports women are more than twice as vulnerable to posttraumatic stress (PTSD) as men, with 10% of women experiencing the condition at some point during their lives, compared to 4% of men.

Effects of Wage Gap on Women’s Mental Health

To evaluate the effects of the wage gap on mental health, researchers pulled data from a 2001-2002 representative sample of 22,581 employed adults ranging in age from 30 to 65. Using symptom profiles from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, researchers assessed participants for signs of mental health concerns.

Overall, the women were 2.5 times more likely than men to experience depression or anxiety. Women who made less than their male counterparts were four times as likely to experience anxiety. When women’s incomes equaled or exceeded that of their male counterparts, their vulnerability to anxiety decreased.

The study’s authors say these findings suggest pay disparities may play a role in the higher rates of mental health issues among women.

Understanding the Wage Gap

The wage gap, which is about 78%, is the percentage women earn compared to men. On average, women currently make 78 cents for every dollar men make. Among women of color, the wage gap is even larger, with black women making 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Some have suggested this is due to lower qualifications, different job preferences, or personal factors such as the refusal to negotiate higher wages, but research shows these factors cannot fully account for the wage gap.

According to a 2015 report by the American Association of University Women, women earn less than men in every job, regardless of educational levels. In 2012, women with master’s degrees had less median weekly earnings ($1,122) than those of men with bachelor’s degrees ($1,246). Even during the earliest stages of their careers, when women and men are less likely to have accrued significant differences in experience, education, or career choices, a gender pay gap still persists.

The study’s authors theorize that work policies such as paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and flexible schedules may reduce risk of mental health conditions related to inequality, though more research is needed to understand the extent of the role discrimination plays in mental health outcomes.


  1. American Association of University Women. (2015, Fall). The simple truth about the gender pay gap. Retrieved from
  2. Platt, J., Prins, S., Bates, L., & Keyes, K. (2016). Unequal depression for equal work? How the wage gap explains gendered disparities in mood disorders. Social Science & Medicine, 149, 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.11.056
  3. The wage gap. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  4. Wage gap could explain why women are more likely to be anxious and depressed than men. (2016, January 5). Retrieved from
  5. Women, trauma, and PTSD. (2015, August 13). Retrieved from

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  • Landry

    January 6th, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    Of course it does!
    It feels terrible when you know that you are putting in just as much time and energy into your job and doing just as good of a job as a man and yet your wages are lower.
    How do you think that this makes us feel ? Like we are not considered to be worth the time and the effort that you suppose that men are.

  • Theo

    January 8th, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    I understand that the wage gap is harmful to women,,, but affect the mental health of these workers? That is absurd. They probably do feel under appreciated and misunderstood but I do not think that these things alone are going to make them too stressed and depressed to work.
    That just means you might have to work a bit harder to prove that you are worth the extra bump in pay.

  • Hildie

    January 9th, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    We have worked so hard to get so far, and this is the kind of appreciation that we get? I am sick of women not being paid what we deserve just because some corporate exec thinks that we should be home being fat and pregnant and happy. No thanks, that’s not the life for me.

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