Women are more stressed at workplaces with a mixed gender composition if other factors, such as pay, are unequal. (Photo: Colourbox)

Equal pay for women means less stress for men

Women and men are less likely to feel work-related stress when both sexes have equal pay and access to parental leave, according to new research.

A workplace dominated by men may have a very different feel than a workplace dominated by women. But just how do gender equality and balance affect stress levels in the workplace, and what exactly causes the most stress?

Sofia Elwér examined these issues for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Umeå, and identified a number of gender equality factors and how they relate to health experiences in the workplace.

She found that workplaces where salaries and parental leave were equal between both sexes were associated with the lowest levels of stress, anxiety or other psychological distress - for both women and men.

Psychological distress with mixed gender

Elwér found that the gender composition at the workplace affected which factors caused psychological distress in workers. 

When the workplace was made up of mostly male workers, psychological stress was likely to be caused by high workplace demands and limited control over one's job. If genders were more evenly mixed, the factor most likely to cause psychological stress was a feeling of being looked down on, while at workplaces with more women it was social support.

“Analyses of the gender composition at the workplace showed that the highest prevalence of psychological distress was found at workplaces with a mixed gender composition,” Elwér reports in her thesis.

Data from 1,000 participants

The research was based on data from approximately 1,000 participants in the Northern Swedish Cohort study, which has been following the same cohort of people since they left secondary school in 1981.

Data from the participant’s workplaces were also gathered, in order to group the workplaces according to gender composition and to create gender equality indicators – such as the gender composition at the workplace, education, salary and parental leave.

In addition, focus group interviews were carried out with staff at two elderly care homes in Northern Sweden.

Six workplace clusters

Elwér used cluster analysis to group the workplaces into six distinctive clusters with different workplace patterns of gender equality. Identifying different patterns of equality made it possible to explore more than one associated factor at a time.

“A multidimensional view of gender equality is necessary to understand health consequences of specific workplace situations,” she adds in the report.

Negative patterns of gender equality

For women there were two work-related patterns of gender equality associated with psychological distress. One was workplaces with mostly women, but with gender equality in terms of salary and education. The other was male-dominated workplaces where women were paid less, had more parental leave and a higher level of education.

“An equal proportion of men and women in the workplace, with 40-60 per cent women, was frequently associated with inequality for other factors - such as salary, level of education and parental leave,” explains Elwér in a University of Umeå press release.

Integrate gender equality into health support

She recommends integrating gender equality into occupational health support, which would involve looking more broadly at structural workplace issues, rather than just focusing on an individual's case.

“Workplaces are important arenas for health promotion activities, and gender equality aspects needs to be taken into account to reach both women and men. Adequate health promotion needs to shift its focus from individual health strategies to structural solutions that can challenge the root of the problem,” Elwér said.

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