Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Economic Insecurity, Male Mental Health, and Violence

One can almost feel Emile Durkheim’s supernatural presence in this story on Reuters.com, “Economic gloom hits men harder than women: study.” Actually I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether the current economic crisis is generating greater job losses among men or women. One NPR story indicates that in the U.S. “Eight out of 10 layoffs in the past year have affected men…”

This story, on the other hand, states that over in the United Kingdom, more women than men have recently lost their jobs. Okay, that’s not really the point, but I would like to know the accurate trends. I can’t imagine they would differ so much based on these locales. Moving on.

As the authors of the Reuters story indicate, men’s attachment to work defines their identities much more so than women. Hence, the sociological fallout of an increasingly shaky economy can be seen in men’s mental health, or lack thereof.

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, the study found.

"In part there is a macho issue about men being the breadwinner," said Dr Brendan Burchell from the University of Cambridge's sociology department, who compiled the study.

"Men, unlike women, have few positive ways of defining themselves outside of the workplace between when they leave school and when they retire."

Ah, the rigid boundaries of hegemonic masculinity. The “perfect” male = rich, employed, educated, big, strong, desired, computer savvy, white ... you get the picture. And when one of the key components of this hegemonic masculine ideal fades away or appears likely to fade away, it’s time to panic. For those men who place heavy personal emphasis on occupational success/failure, looming unemployment can really fiddle with their sensibilities.

And it’s not just about having or not having a job at present time. It’s also about the ongoing uncertainty of losing a job. The anxious mental state that tends to accompany occupational ambiguity, even in times of employment, have significantly different effects on men and women.

The study cited a Populus poll released earlier this year which showed that women, more than men, say they are worried about the possibility of losing their jobs.

But the Cambridge study found that while men may put on a braver face, job insecurity causes more symptoms of anxiety and depression in men than in women.
Analyzing data from 300 current British employees, combined with a survey of thousands of people by the Economic and Social Research Council charting the effects of social and economic change since 1991, it found that when unemployed men move into insecure jobs, they showed no improvement in psychological health.

For unemployed women, even finding an insecure job helped to restore psychological health.

Very interesting commentary regarding the public nature of men not wanting to show they were worried, and therefore putting on the “braver face.” Gender is largely performed. But when it comes down to it, occupational instability still had more deleterious effects on men’s mental health than women’s.

Additional commentary needs to address how too many men, after becoming unemployed, feel the need to reassert their sense of masculinity through violence. Furthermore, as this Orlando Sentinel story explains, during economic slumps, it is substantially more difficult for women to exit violent relationships.

First, escalating unemployment and foreclosure rates add an extra strain on relationships that already may be volatile. One of the leading risk factors for violence, according to national research, is whether the batterer is jobless.

Second, once victims do make the decision to leave their abuser, they often can't find a job so they can move out of the shelter and start a new life.

And, third, donations for domestic-violence programs are down, leaving shelters with fewer resources to help their rising caseloads.

Of course in low-income, developing countries, the multiple layers of gender stratification are that much more severe, and unfortunately, we can expect to see intimate partner violence escalate even more so in those areas if preventative actions are not soon implemented.

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  1. See also story from the BBC, "'Econocide' to surge as recession bites."


    Also linked up on The Global Sociology Blog -

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