Women, poverty and common mental disorders in four restructuring societies

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Dec;49(11):1461-71. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00208-7.


Background: Poverty and female gender have been found to be associated with depression and anxiety in developed countries. The rationale behind this paper was to bring together five epidemiological data sets from four low to middle income countries to examine whether key economic and development indicators such as income and poor education, and female gender, were associated with common mental disorders.

Method: The paper is based on five datasets: three based on primary care attenders in Goa, India; Harare, Zimbabwe and Santiago, Chile; and two based on community samples in Pelotas, Brazil and Olinda, Brazil. All five studies estimated prevalence of common mental disorders along with variables to measure economic deprivation and education.

Findings: In all five studies, female gender, low education and poverty were strongly associated with common mental disorders. When income was divided into tertiles, with the lowest tertile as a reference value, there was a significant trend for reduced morbidity for the lower two tertiles.

Discussion: These findings have considerable implications since the rapid economic changes in all four societies have been associated with rising income disparity and economic inequality. Examples of population based prevention strategies based on increasing the proportion of those who complete schooling and on high-risk strategies such as providing loan facilities to the impoverished are potential outcomes of these findings. Development agencies who focus on women as a priority group have failed to recognize their unique vulnerability to common mental disorders and need to reorient their priorities accordingly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Poverty*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Women's Health
  • Zimbabwe