The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Women Alone—and Depressed

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Mental-health experts have known for decades that women are more vulnerable to depression than men. But a newly published study suggests that women’s vulnerability to this mental malady depends a great deal on marital status.

Affiliated with the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the researchers embark on this new study aware that “women are twice as likely as men to experience depression and generalized anxiety disorder.”  Behind this gender disparity, the researchers describe “a variety of biological and social factors,” including “women’s hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth.”  But the Chicago scholars seek to identify more narrowly the social, economic, and personal characteristics that predict depression and anxiety among women.

Marital status stands out clearly as one such characteristic: the researchers report that “depressed women [in the study] were less likely to be married (8% versus 34% [p < 0.05]).” What is more, this statistical linkage between marital status and depression persists in a sophisticated multivariable analysis taking into account women’s differences in ethnicity, in physical health, in number of children, in neighborhood affluence, and in other background characteristics (once again, p < 0.05).

Clearly evident in the relative rates for depression, the protective effect of marriage shows up again—though less definitely—in the researchers’ data for anxiety. The researchers report that the incidence of anxiety disorders runs lower among the married women in their study than among their unmarried peers. Though the difference in incidence rates does not reach the threshold for statistical significance, it does indicate a discernible statistical trend favoring married women
(p = 0.071).

The Chicago scholars believe their study “highlights the importance of universal screening for depression or anxiety with more in-depth surveillance based on risk factors rather than on racial classification.”  Since marital status emerges as one of the salient risk factors, perhaps public officials should devote attention not just to screening women for mental illness but also to fostering lasting marriages that will shield these women from mental distress in the first place.

(Kalycia Trishana Watson, Nehezi M. Roberts, and Milda R. Saunders, “Factors Associated with Anxiety and Depression among African American and White Women,” ISRN Psychiatry [2012]: 432321, Web.)