Non-Working Wives Cite Frustrations

A study of depression among Los Angeles County adults conducted by UCLA has found that while the role conflicts of working wives and mothers may be strong factors in depressive illness, the women even more at risk are non-working wives. When things go wrong, homemakers, unlike working men and women, do not have an alternative to the family unit to provide satisfaction, and they cited loneliness and frustration because of excessive homemaking demands as factors in their depression.

While the in-depth study, which involved interviewing over a four-year period, included both men and women, it offered particular insights about women and why they are the most frequent victims of depression. Depression is the most common diagnosis of mental disorder--its less severe symptoms afflict as much as 20% of the general population--and women are twice as likely as men to be depressed.

Married, working mothers have the greatest potential for happiness as well as significant risk of depression, according to Dr. Carol Aneshensel of UCLA's School of Public Health, a co-investigator with Drs. Ralph Frerichs and Virginia Clark. Work, marriage and children are all sources of gratification as well as stress. When role conflicts or overloads lead to conflicts and compromises, the result may be depression.

Ideal Combination for Men For men, however, the combination of marriage, work and parenthood seems to be ideal. "Their status as husbands and fathers justifies greater career involvement and poses no role conflict," said Aneshensel. "There is a congruence in these roles for men. Even though many women head households today, men are still expected to be breadwinners."

Social support from family and friends appears to be crucial in preventing depression in women. Some women with high strain in marriage and/or work situations do not experience depression, probably because they have effective social support in their lives.

Perceptions about how women's marital status relates to emotional contentment is "awash with stereotypes," Aneshensel said. Single women are likely to perceive that they have inadequate social support, but many have more supportive relationships to turn to than married people whose marriage is their central focus.

Another factor in depression among married women may be that marriage appears to have a greater impact on identity for women than for men, Aneshensel said. Unlike men, married women were more likely to become depressed over marital problems than job problems. She cited one study in which non-working wives said that receiving affirmation from their husbands was more important than intimacy. Women in the study who perceived inadequate support from their husbands along with a sense of overwhelming responsibility were at high risk for depression.

Aneshensel has published the results of the study in a book, "Stress, Social Support and Women."

Working Woman magazine has conducted its sixth annual survey of the salaries of professional and managerial women and men, and while there was a slight improvement for women--in 1984 they earned 75 cents to the male dollar compared to 71 cents in 1983--there is virtually no field in which salary parity exists.

Dentistry showed what the magazine called a "dramatic difference"--a $269.20 disparity between the weekly earnings of women and men.

It appears in many fields that the presence of a large or larger number of women does not lead to equality in pay. Between 1983 and 1984, the proportion of women in management occupations increased from 39% to 45%, but the salary differential remained the same, 37% less than their male counterparts, according to the magazine, which compiles its information from salaries reported by business.

In physical therapy, a field in which 77% of the practitioners are women, men's salaries ranged from $25,000 to $34,999. The women's range was $10,000 a year less. The disparity was similar to that in a male-dominated field, architecture, in which women represent only 12.7% of the workers. The earnings of a woman principal/partner in a firm averaged $34,400 compared to $47,200 for men.

In some cases, attaining higher positions seems to increase the differential. In looking at college and university professors, the findings indicated that at the associate professor level, women and men were about $1,600 apart, with women associate professors in public institutions receiving an average of $27,180 to a man's $28,770. But when elevated to professor level, the woman and man are more than $3,000 apart with men at $37,440, women at $34,230. In private colleges, the difference was even more marked: associate professors received $29,770 for men, $28,090 for women. But male professors averaged $42,220, about $7,000 more than the average $35,260 paid to women.

The seniority of men who have held positions longer in fields recently opening to women may account for some of these differences. However, the magazine noted, in nursing, a field in which women hold 97% of the jobs and most of the seniority, men averaged $1.17 a week more than women.

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