The gap between the rich and the poor in the United States is getting wider — and the consequences of that ever-increasing inequality extend far beyond Americans’ bank accounts. According to a new study, income disparities also contribute to higher rates of depression among women.
Researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health found that women living in areas with large gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots” are at greater risk for being depressed. The women living in the areas with the biggest income ranges, such as New York and Washington, DC, are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression compared to the women living in areas that have a more equal income distribution, like Utah and Alaska. The researchers did not uncover the same link between income inequality and men’s mental health.
Women may be particularly impacted by economic inequality because they tend to be on the lower end of the income spectrum. They’re more likely to work in demanding jobs, like as a teacher or a home health worker, that aren’t as highly compensated as traditionally masculine positions. And, of course, women still don’t earn as much as men do even for doing the exact same work.
That doesn’t mean that men aren’t also at risk for mental health issues stemming from economic hardship, however. Other studies have found that the Great Recession caused a sharp rise in suicides among men, largely because the men who lost their jobs became more likely to develop serious depression.
And typically, the economic policies during times of economic hardship simply make matters worse. “During tough economic times, the response is to cut taxes for the wealthy and cut back on social programs,” Roman Pabayo, one of the lead researchers for the study, told Reuters Health. States also tend to respond to economic downturns by slashing their budgets for mental health services. Those cut-backs have serious consequences. For instance, after Kansas eliminated some of its mental health funding during the Great Recession, suicides in the state jumped by 30 percent.
This is hardly the only example of the link between economic inequality and mental health problems. Other studies have suggested that poverty could take a bigger toll on veterans’ mental health than warfare itself. Living in poverty causes as much stress as constantly pulling all-nighters, and there’s evidence that it permanently changes kids’ brains and pre-disposes them for a greater risk of mental health issues in the future.