Men who think they may lose their jobs are likely to become more depressed and anxious than women, even though they claim to be less concerned, new research shows.

Despite several decades of more equal employment opportunities for men and women, men retain traditional beliefs that their masculinity is threatened if their employment is threatened.

Dr Brendan Burchell

Findings to be presented at a University of Cambridge conference suggest that as the economic slowdown wears on, the effects of job insecurity will take a greater toll on men's health than that of their female counterparts.

Poll results released earlier this year indicated that women say that they are worried about the possibility of losing their jobs more than men. That poll, and the fact that there has been a sharper decline in women's jobs than men's, prompted speculation that women would be the main victims of the credit crunch recession.

The new study, however, reveals that while men may put on a braver face, job insecurity causes more symptoms of anxiety and depression in men than in women.

The research, by Dr Brendan Burchell from the University of Cambridge's Department of Sociology, also suggests that the long-term decline in mental well-being can be worse for people who are under threat of losing their jobs than for those who are actually made redundant.

The results will be discussed at a seminar today (Friday, March 6th), entitled "The Credit Crunch: Gender Equality in Hard Times". The event, in Cambridge, has been organised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Gender Equality Network as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

Dr Burchell is currently analysing the results of a study of more than 300 UK employees as well as data from the British Household Panel Survey, an ESRC-funded survey of thousands of people which has been charting the effects of social and economic change since 1991.

Both projects use standard clinical measures (called the "GHQ 12") which pick up symptoms of stress and anxiety. This enabled Dr Burchell to carry out the first ever study on a representative sample of how job insecurity is linked to changes in psychological welfare over time.

The study revealed that while men claim to be less concerned about job insecurity than women, they show more signs of being stressed, anxious and depressed. For example, when unemployed men move into insecure jobs, they show no improvement in their psychological health. But for unemployed women, even insecure jobs restore their psychological health.

"In part there is a macho issue about men being the breadwinner," Dr Burchell said. "Men, unlike women, have few positive ways of defining themselves outside of the workplace between when they leave school and when they retire. Despite several decades of more equal employment opportunities for men and women, men retain traditional beliefs that their masculinity is threatened if their employment is threatened."

The presentation will stress the need not just to restabilise the City, but to reduce the suffering of both men and women as the recession wears on for the sake of public health and cohesiveness.

Dr Burchell found that the stress and anxiety of people who had become unemployed "bottomed out" after about six months as they adapted to their new circumstances. By contrast, people who had not lost their jobs but were worried about doing so displayed steadily worsening mental health for one to two years.

This suggests that particular attention should be paid to the psychological well-being of workers as the recession drags on. The "social ills" resulting from greater stress and anxiety are likely to be worse in a year's time than they are now, Dr Burchell will argue.

"Given that most economic forecasts predict that the recession will be long with a slow recovery, the results mean that many people - and men in particular - could be entering into a period of prolonged and growing misery," he added.

"People seem not to be able to develop coping mechanisms for job insecurity as they do for unemployment. This means that people who have been in an insecure job for over a year continue to show a decline in their mental health."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.