Income, Intimate Partner Violence Shape Women’s Depression Risks
Women in the U.S. typically earn less money than men, even when they perform similar or identical jobs. In addition, women are far more likely than men to experience intimate partner violence (violence perpetrated by a current or past spouse, sexual partner or non-sexual partner). In a study published in late 2014 in the Journal of Social Service Research, a team of researchers from Texas Woman’s University assessed the impact that income levels and severity of intimate partner violence exposure have on the odds that a woman will develop potentially diagnosable symptoms of depression.
Women’s Income Levels
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks the amount of money earned each year by men and women in America. According to BLS statistics for the year 2013, the average woman in the U.S. working full time makes roughly four-fifths (82 percent) as much as her male counterpart. This gender gap, while undeniably substantial, has closed by approximately 20 percentage points over the past 35 years. Broadly speaking, women with the highest income levels are between the ages of 35 and 64. On average, Asian American women earn more than women in any other racial/ethnic group. In descending order, the next highest incomes are earned by European American women, African American women and Hispanic women.
Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the modern-day term for domestic violence. It includes any form of physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence directed at a spouse, sexual partner or non-sexual partner, as well as any threats of violence directed at a spouse, sexual partner or non-sexual partner. While women are sometimes perpetrators of intimate partner violence, they have much greater chances of experiencing such violence at the hands of another.
Women’s Depression Risks
Women in the U.S. develop depression symptoms substantially more often than men. All people have depression risks related to factors such as genetic inheritance, non-genetic environmental influences, stress exposure and changes in hormone levels or other aspects of the brain’s typical chemical environment. However, notable hormone fluctuations may make women unusually susceptible to developing depression, especially following pregnancy or during the major shift in hormonal balance associated with passage through menopause. In addition, women’s traditional social roles as caretakers, nurturers and maintainers of social bonds may combine to create a largely gender-specific depression risk. Forms of depressive illness that only affect women include a subtype of major depression known as postpartum depression and a separately diagnosable condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Income, IPV and Depression
In the study published in the Journal of Social Service Research, the Texas Woman’s University researchers used information gathered from 300 women to help determine how income levels and exposure to intimate partner violence shape a woman’s chances of developing depression symptoms. All of the women enrolled in the study were first-time visitors to shelters or other social service venues for women affected by intimate partner violence. The researchers used standards issued by the federal government to divide the study participants into three groups: people above the official poverty line, people below the official poverty line and people with no reportable income.
After analyzing the study participants’ depression scores, the researchers concluded that income alone apparently doesn’t directly influence a woman’s odds of developing depression symptoms. However, they also concluded that income levels and degree of exposure to intimate partner violence can combine to exert a considerable influence on a woman’s depression risks. The amount and type of influence vary among different groups of women. For example, among women with relatively high incomes, depression is associated with extensive exposure to both sexual intimate partner violence and physical intimate partner violence. Among women just over the poverty line, depression and other emotional/psychological issues are associated with any severe form of IPV. Curiously, the researchers could not find a link between IPV exposure and depression in women with no reported income.
Overall, the study’s authors believe that varying degrees of poverty and varying degrees of exposure to intimate partner violence interact to help determine any given woman’s depression risks and other mental health risks. They point toward a need for future research to identify ways to provide assistance to IPV-affected women and reduce any income-associated risks for mental health problems.