[psychiatry-research] Researchers offer reasons why women experience depression more than men do
- FOR RELEASE: 31 OCTOBER 1999 AT 18:00 ET US
American Psychological Association
Researchers offer reasons why women experience depression more than men do
Personality characteristics and social conditions play role
WASHINGTON--Researchers have known for years that women experience depression
more often than men do, but the reason for this gender difference has not been
clear. A new study, published in the November issue of the American
Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
provides some answers by showing how social conditions and personality
characteristics affect each other and contribute to the gender differences in
In the study, psychologists Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., and Carla Grayson,
Ph.D., of the University of Michigan and Judith Larson, Ph.D., of Atherton, CA,
interviewed 1,100 adults between the ages of 25 and 75 years old from three
ethnically diverse California cities. Results suggest that women may more often
than men get caught in a cycle of despair and passivity because of the
interaction of lower mastery (lower sense of control) over important areas of
life and more chronic strain and rumination (chronically and passively thinking
about feelings). For these women, more chronic strain led to more rumination
over time, and more rumination led to more chronic strain over time.
The study's authors say the chronic strain the women in the study reported were
"the grinding annoyances and burdens that come with women's lower social power.
Women carried a greater load of the housework and child care and more of the
strain of parenting than did men." The authors also found women felt less
appreciated by their partners than men did.
"Rumination may maintain chronic strain because it drains people of the
motivation, persistence, and problem-solving skills to change their
situations," said the authors. "Failing to do what one can to overcome
stressful situations such as an unfulfilling marriage or an inequitable
distribution of labor at home perpetuates these situations." While this study
cannot answer the question of which comes first, rumination or chronic strain,
the researchers say the interaction of the two makes it more difficult to
overcome either one.
So what is a depressed woman, under chronic strain and ruminating or lacking a
belief that she can control her life, to do? The authors conclude "helping
women achieve a greater sense of control over their circumstances and engage in
problem solving rather than ruminating should be useful. Changing the social
circumstances that many women face so that they do not have so much to ruminate
about is equally important."
Article: "Explaining the Gender Difference in Depressive Symptoms," Susan
Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., and Carla Grayson, Ph.D., University of Michigan; and
Judith Larson, Ph.D., Atherton, California, Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, Vol. 77, No. 5.
Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., can be reached at (734) 764-0693 or email
The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest
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