Historical Changes in the Gender Gap in Depression in the United States, 1971 to 2008

Carla Medalia, University of Pennsylvania

Depression is a major public health concern that typically affects women more than men. Social factors have been shown to explain some of the sex gap. Furthermore, an earlier study concluded that the increase in women’s employment between the 1950s and 1970s contributed to a decrease in the sex gap in depression. Since then, significant social changes have occurred in the realms of gender, work, and family. This paper updates the debate on sex and depression by investigating whether there have been changes in the sex gap in depression since 1970, and if so, what explains those trends? Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, I find that women are less depressed now than forty years ago, and as a result, that the sex gap in depression has decreased. The narrowing of the sex gap is attributable to the increase in female employment over this period.

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Presented in Session 24: Demography of Mental Health