Downward mobility quadruples risk of depression in men, but not women

September 14, 2005

Downward mobility hits men far harder than women, quadrupling their risk of depression, finds research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The findings are based on survey responses from 503 men and women taking part in the Newcastle Thousand Families Study, all of whom were born in May and June 1947 to mothers living in Newcastle upon Tyne, north east England.

Information on their family's social class was gathered at their birth. And at the age of 50 participants were asked to describe their own social class at the time and when they were 25, in a bid to track social mobility over the life course.

They also completed a general health questionnaire, which included questions about their mental health.

Living standards have generally improved in Britain since 1947, boosting average life expectancy at birth by 8.5 years in both men and women between 1950 and 1998, say the authors.

More women than men were clinically depressed at the age of 50, according to the health questionnaire. And around twice as many women as men reported downward mobility between birth and 50 years of age.

But while a woman's risk of depression in mid life was strongly linked to social class at birth, this was not the case for men.

By the age of 50, downwardly mobile men were over three and a half times as likely to be depressed as their downwardly mobile female peers. And they were around four times as likely to be depressed as men whose social class remained the same.

The results suggest that women may be more sensitive to the impact of poor socioeconomic status in very early childhood, say the authors.

And they point out that since the late 1970s, Britain's manufacturing base has gradually given way to service industries, which tend to employ more women than men. This may have taken a toll on men's role identity and self esteem, which could explain the findings, they say.
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BMJ Specialty Journals

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