How the Wage Gap is Affecting Women’s Mental Health

Gemma Hart, Author

In America, women earn 82 cents for every $1 earned by a man. This significant wage gap is not only affecting women’s financial security and independence, it’s also having a negative impact on women’s mental health.

Why Do Women Earn Less than Men?

Perhaps the most common question relating to the gender pay gap is, why do women earn less than men in the first place? Sadly, many explanations for the gender pay gap are dissatisfying and generally unfounded in facts.

The most common explanation given by organizations is that men typically have the freedom to work in more senior positions that demand longer working hours. This is because, despite the fight for equal rights, women are typically the caregivers of their children. They must balance their family commitments while trying to climb the career ladder.

Even today, in the 21st Century, the workplace inherently favors men over women. It still favors unsocial work hours over flexible schedules, those without family commitments over those with children. Too often, women’s roles are put in certain boxes and these boxes can limit their personal and professional potential, resulting in low pay, job dissatisfaction, lost identity, burnout, and ultimately mental health problems.

The Gender Pay Gap and Mental Health

Gender discrimination and the daily experiences women face are structurally embedded in our society and have a significant impact on women’s mental health, often resulting in anxiety and psychological trauma.

Unfortunately, some women blame themselves for considering alternatives like perhaps if they’d delayed having a family, made themselves more available at work, or worked harder for longer, they would have a more successful career. For many, it feels like the best solution is to work harder and do better. However, this can simply exacerbate the symptoms of mental health, causing burnout and an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

How Women’s Mental Health is Affected

There are many ways the gender pay gap impacts the lives of women. They include:

Chronic Stress:

Many women experience chronic stress as a result of the wage gap. They often feel pressured to work harder and for longer periods to keep up with their male colleagues and maintain their job security. Add this to the constant demands of family and home life; chronic stress can quickly set in.

“Chronic overload at work, deadline pressure, double load and family strain […] and a lack of success have a high potential to generate chronic stress […] this gradually leads to exhaustion and a weakening of the immune system. In the long run, this can be seen in different physical and psychological symptoms,” says Dr. Claudia M. Elsig MD at The CALDA Clinic.

Physical Sickness

For many women, experiencing gender discrimination in the workplace directly correlates with worsening physical health, reduced living conditions, and for some substance abuse.

More than 1 in 10 women report experiencing gender-based discrimination at work. And, as such, they are more likely to struggle with reduced physical health. This is particularly true for women who have experienced sexual harassment.

It is extremely common for women to experience high levels of stress due to gender discrimination and this can lead to numerous chronic conditions, from high blood pressure to diabetes.

Poor Living Conditions

A direct result of the gender pay gap is that many women find themselves living in worse conditions than their male counterparts. Despite working in the same level of seniority and performing the same professional tasks, women are still paid less than men and this can mean they have less access to things they need to live well.

As a result, women can find it takes longer to get out of debt, save for retirement, and buy houses, in comparison to men. Understandably, this can cause high levels of stress and also result in women struggling to afford quality food, health insurance, safe housing, and so much more. Understandably, and perhaps inevitably, women’s mental health can be severely impacted as a result.

Depression and Anxiety

The wage gap between men and women is one of the most common causes of rising rates of depression and anxiety among women. In fact, women who earn less than their male counterparts are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression negatively impact women in the workplace, impacting everything from their job performance to their physical health.

Final Words

Change is needed. Women are still overlooked in the workplace and, as you can see above, they continue to be greatly impacted by the gender pay gap. There is a direct correlation between the wage gap and womens’ mental health and it is time to value all employees equally, regardless of their gender. Working to reduce the gender pay gap will not only help to create a more equal society but also a healthier one.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Gemma Hart is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now turns her focus towards growing her brand and building relationships with leading experts.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.