Can gender differences in the prevalence of mental disorders be explained by sociodemographic factors?

Arch Womens Ment Health. 2004 Apr;7(2):133-48. doi: 10.1007/s00737-004-0047-7. Epub 2004 Mar 22.


Background and aims: Epidemiological studies throughout the world consistently reported higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders in women, whereas men consistently show higher rates of substance and antisocial disorders. The present study examined factors potentially contributing to these gender differences using general population data.

Methods: The sample was drawn from population registries (N=4181) and can be regarded as representative for the adult German population aged 18-65. Mental disorders (DSM-IV) were assessed with a diagnostic interview (CIDI) carried out by clinically trained interviewers. A range of sociodemographic variables was analysed within men, within women, and between genders.

Results: The prevalence of common mental disorders (mood, anxiety, substance use and somatoform disorders) is higher among females, with the exception of substance use disorders. Young age was related to substance disorders both in women and in men. Not being married and being unemployed were associated with increased rates of mental disorders in both sexes, but in men stronger than in women. Being retired was associated with depression only in women, whereas belonging to a higher social class, working fulltime and having children appeared to be protective factors for men only. Other sociodemographic factors (concerning education, employment and family status) were not associated with increased rates of mental disorders both in women and men.

Conclusion: Overall the emotional advantages or disadvantages of marital status, employment status, number of children, parenthood and social class apply equally to men and women. We cannot explain the female preponderance in most mental disorders by detecting specific unfavourable patterns of sociodemographic correlates, suggesting that determinants of gender differences in common mental disorders are still far from being understood.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Demography*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / classification
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors*