Gender discrimination linked to decline in women’s wellbeing over time

Middle aged women who believe they have experienced gender discrimination are more likely to have poorer emotional wellbeing and also have a greater decline in their wellbeing over time, according to international research. The team surveyed just over 3000 women aged over 50 about how often they encountered a range of experiences of discrimination and whether they believed their experience was due to their gender. The women also completed a questionnaire about their wellbeing, and then completed the same questionnaire again five years later. The researchers say women who reported gender discrimination were likely to have more depressive symptoms, be lonelier and have lower quality of life at the first questionnaire, and these measures were more likely to have declined at the second questionnaire.

Funder: This study was supported by the
Academy of Medical Sciences/the Wellcome Trust/
the Government Department of Business, Energy
and Industrial Strategy/the British Heart
Foundation/Diabetes UK Springboard Award
[SBF006\1036]. This funding was awarded to RAH.
The funders had no role in the study design, data
collection and analysis, decision to publish, or
preparation of the manuscript.

Media release

From: PLOS

Perceived gender discrimination linked to decline in wellbeing for older women

1 in 11 women aged 52+ perceived gender discrimination, linked with more depressive symptoms, more loneliness, and lower quality of life

A study of more than 3,000 middle-aged and older women living in England showed that those who believed they had encountered gender discrimination were more likely to report declines in wellbeing over time. Ruth Hackett of King’s College London, UK, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on March 20, 2024.

Prior research suggests that people who perceive that they have experienced gender discrimination are more likely to report poorer mental wellbeing. However, most studies have not examined wellbeing over time, or have focused on younger women.

To better understand this relationship among older women, Hackett and colleagues analyzed data from 3,081 women enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), which follows a large group of people over 50 years of age.

In 2010 or 2011, each woman answered questions about how often they encountered different discriminatory situations—such as being harassed or being treated with less respect or courtesy—and whether they attributed that discrimination to their gender or another characteristic, such as race or age. At two points in time, each woman also answered standard questionnaires for evaluating mental wellbeing; once in 2010 or 2011 and again in 2016 or 2017.

9.2 percent of the women reported perceived gender discrimination, most commonly situations where they were treated with less respect or courtesy. Overall, those who perceived gender discrimination also reported more depressive symptoms, more loneliness, and lower quality of life and life satisfaction. Between the two time points, they were more likely to report declines in quality of life and life satisfaction, as well as increased loneliness. These results held true after statistically accounting for other wellbeing-related factors, such as age, wealth, and physical activity.

The findings suggest that perceived gender discrimination may be linked to declines in mental wellbeing for middle-aged and older women, prompting the researchers to call for more efforts to address gender discrimination. They also note the need for further research to clarify the mechanisms driving this link and to address the limitations of their study, such as its lack of non-white participants.

The authors add: “We found that middle-aged and older women who perceived sexism were more likely to be depressed and lonely than women who did not perceive sexism. These women also reported low levels of life satisfaction and poor quality of life. The study findings are particularly concerning as they indicate an enduring impact of gender-based discrimination on mental health and wellbeing six years later.”


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