Background: Women are consistently reported to have a greater prevalence of depressive disorders than men. The reason for this is unclear, and is as likely to be social as biological. There is some evidence that the excess of depression is greater during women's reproductive lives. Data from the National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity were used to test the hypothesis that the excess disappeared in the post-menopausal years and that obvious social explanations for this were inadequate.
Method: Subjects (N = 9792) from a random sample of the British population provided data for the analysis. Psychiatric assessment was carried out by lay interviewers using the CIS-R. Subjects with ICD-10 depressive episode or mixed anxiety/depression were compared with the remainder. Social variables that were likely to contribute to a post-menopausal decline in depressive disorders were controlled in logistic regression analyses.
Results: There was a clear reversal of the sex difference in prevalence of depression in those over age 55. This could not be explained in terms of differential effects of marital status, child care, or employment status.
Conclusions: This large and representative survey adds considerably to the increasingly held view that the sex difference in prevalence of depression is less apparent in later middle age. This may be linked to the menopause, and our attempts to explain it in terms of obvious conditions among social variables were not successful. More specific studies are required to clarify the finding.