Men with stay at home partners less likely to be depressed

November 09, 2001

A new study shows that a partner's employment status may be more of a factor in depression than once thought. In an ESRC-funded study at the Department of Psychiatry at Queen Mary's School of Medicine researchers found that middle aged men whose partners worked part-time or who were at home caring for the family had lower depression scores than those whose partners worked full time. Similarly men whose partners moved from caring for the family to full time work had higher depression scores.

The project was part of the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal study of over 10,000 middle aged male and female civil servants whose focus has been to try and explain the gradient of increasing ill health between high grade and low grade employees. 'We were trying to understand whether aspects of work and social life explain the employment grade differences in depression and identify the importance of different types of stress and social support in relation to depression' explains Professor Stephen Stansfeld, one of the authors of the report.

The project looked at the contribution of work and home based factors in the explanation of the social class gradient in mental ill health. What the research turned up was that both men and women in high grade positions have plenty of material and social resources which contribute directly to their quality of life and help them to cope with stress.

In the workplace, control over work, opportunities for use of skills and variety of work were important factors explaining why higher-grade employees had lower rate of depression than lower grade employees. 'Social networks were confirmed as an important resource. Stay at home partners in particular were perceived as particularly beneficial taking responsibility for the family and developing community ties' says Dr Vicky Cattell, one of the authors of the report.

Certain workplace stress factors more common in lower grade jobs include a huge sense of frustration at lack of promotion or feeling overburdened by demands whilst having little freedom of choice in the matter. A cohesive work group could be protective however: 'We found that when new tasks or additional demands were combined with a disruption of the work group people were especially vulnerable to the effects of stress' explains Professor Stansfeld. 'Experiencing stress at both home and work could be particularly damaging for mental health' he adds.

Women in the lowest or middle employment grades who reported little control over their environment either at work or home were at most risk for depression. Men in middle grades with little control at work were also at risk whilst men in the middle and higher grades who felt powerless at home were also at risk for depression. 'We also found that women whose partner became unemployed were more at risk of depression whereas having a partner who moved from work into retirement had no effect on their depression score' says Professor Stansfeld.

'One of the key findings of our research is that stress factors which lead to mental illness may be on a sliding scale which correlates with social class. It has also highlighted the complex and cumulative nature of influences on mental health and wellbeing. We need to do more research which explores the pathways linking social class, stress, resources, physical and mental illness' adds Professor Stansfeld.
For more information contact: Professor Stephen Stansfeld or Dr Vicky Cattell, Department of Psychiatry, Barts & the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, Medical Science Building, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS. Telephone: 020-7882-7725/6979, email: and
Or contact Julie Robertson, Lesley Lilley or Karen Emerton in ESRC External Relations Division on 01793 413032, 413119 or 413122.


1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

2. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

3. 'Mind the Gap', the ESRC's 5th National Social Science Conference will take place at the QEII Conference Centre in London on Wednesday 15 November. The role of social science in policymaking, the democratic deficit, direct action and political parties; the provision of services; the changing role of trade unions and personnel departments will be under the spotlight. Key speakers include broadcasters Jon Snow and Jonathan Freedland, Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Stephen Thornton (NHS Confederation), Tim Martin (Rail Regulator), Professor Julian Le Grand, Professor Betsy Stanko, and Professor John Ermisch. For further information contact David Ridley, External Relations, ESRC. Telephone 01793 413118.

Economic & Social Research Council

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