Background. Gender differences in clinically relevant depression are well established, appear to be greatest in childbearing years and may be the result of gender differences in social roles.
Methods. A community sample of 100 couples who had recently experienced at least one threatening life event that was potentially depressogenic for both of them was studied using a semi-structured interviewer-rated interview. Onset of depression was assessed using the Present State Examination, and, rather than assuming that a gender difference in roles existed uniformly across the couples, they were characterized according to their actual role activity and commitment.
Results. Women were found to have a greater risk of a depressive episode following the life event than men, and this difference was of a similar magnitude to other reports of gender differences in depression. Consistent with a role hypothesis, this greater risk was entirely restricted to episodes that followed events involving children, housing or reproductive problems. In addition, it was found that women's greater risk of a depressive episode following such events was only present among those couples where there were clear gender differences in associated roles. There was some suggestion that differences in roles on the one hand resulted in women being more likely to hold themselves responsible for such events and, on the other hand, enabled men to distance themselves from them.
Conclusions. These results support the hypothesis that gender differences in rates of depression in the general population are, to a considerable extent, a consequence of role differences.
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