The ‘Gender Life-Satisfaction/Depression Paradox’ Is an Artefact of Inappropriate Control Variables
Previous research has suggested that there is a ‘gender paradox’ associated with life satisfaction and depression: women are said to have higher levels of life satisfaction on average but also a higher likelihood of experiencing depression. That finding comes from quantitative analyses that include socio-demographic control variables. In this article I show that the inclusion of these control variables leads to biased results. In general, controls are to be selected on the basis that they are antecedents of the focal independent variable (as well as the dependent variable). When the focal independent variable is gender (or, more precisely, sex), no controls are required: there are no determinants of life satisfaction that also determine someone’s sex. If we include socio-demographic controls, we get biased results – because the controls themselves are affected by sex. More precisely: if we include controls (e.g. for income) to discern the difference between women’s and men’s life satisfaction, we get a result that fails to reflect the way women experience specific disadvantages (e.g. lower income) that contribute to lower life satisfaction. The same points apply to an analysis of depression. In a properly specified model (using data from the European Social Survey), there is no difference between women’s and men’s life satisfaction – so, there is no paradox with respect to depression.
Author affiliationSchool of Media, Communication and Sociology, University of Leicester
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