Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The psychological health of working mothers

This graph relates to Swedish women.

The accompanying commentary, from Mercator.com reads:

Swedish working mothers not so happy afterall
Why is the mental health of working Swedish women among the worst in the developed world? Isn’t Sweden the Mecca of work-life balance, where heavily subsidised childcare and other family friendly policies make it a model state for women’s equality?
Maybe, but something seems to have gone wrong. Over the last two decades in many OECD countries younger workers increasingly have been exiting the workforce on disability pensions (mainly related to mental illness and back problems) but the psychiatric trend has been more pronounced among younger women, and most pronounced of all among Swedish women workers.

First, there is a trend across developed nations for people to resort to disability benefits for mental illness . I blogged about the trend in NZ just recently.

Second, as women have made up an increasing proportion of the workforce it follows more claims for work-related disability will occur. The graph cannot tell us whether the workplace or the home, or a combination of both lead to these claims.

Third, the medical profession plays a large part in the trend. GPs have been more prone to diagnosing and treating mental illness.

Fourth, where is the associated graph for men? It is quite probably similar.

Fifth, the commentary goes on to point out those most at risk are lone mothers. It isn't news that single mothers experience worse mental and physical health but it's not clear whether this predisposes them to being single parents or is a result of being a single parent.

Sixth, the rises look dramatic when depicted in this way. The sharpest increase has gone from 10 per 10,000 to 45 per 10,000 but expressed another way, the rate has  gone from 0.1 to 0.45 percent.

Seventh, the charts go to 2005 and at the latest point show drops so it'd be interesting to know if those decreases were the beginning of a reversal trend.

Eighth, for single parents, the alternative to work is welfare. As the researchers seem to be using disability pension claims as proxy for the incidence of mental illness they should also look at other indicators that would be measurable among lone non-working mothers.

The Family in America comments:

Summarizing their findings, the researchers conclude, “A considerable part of the social expenses due to DP should be attributed to lone working women with children. Their illness and decreased work capacity have implications not only for the mothers but probably also for the children.” American policymakers should recognize this study’s cautionary implications: policies that promote maternal employment while inhibiting marriage will cost the country dearly.

This is the bind we have come to.

Welfare for single parents has had an undoubted detrimental effect on relationship formation and stability. The only way to turn the tide  is to take it away. That can only be done if parents go to work, and new entrants are turned away. I wouldn't accept these findings as good reason to promote welfare over work. In fact it might be argued that those women not coping with being a parent and working are self-selecting out of the workforce by moving onto disability benefits. While the thousands of other mothers who are doing better working than on welfare remain in the workforce.

(Hat-tip Bob McCoskrie)


Anonymous said...

Can do better Lindsay:

Welfare has had an undoubted detrimental effect. The only way to turn the tide is to take it away.

We know how to fix basically every one of NZ's social, fiscal, monetary and employment problems.

1. stop the benefits (including the Dole, DPB, Super, WFF, ACC,,,)

2. remove the minimum wage and union laws.

These two changes - Key could do 'em both by Christmas - would end bludgerism in NZ.

Richard said...

LOL - "mental illness and back problems".

Anonymous said...

If the minimum wage is removed we will be another impoverished 3rd world country in no time at all.Sure you might like paying people pittance to wipe your a..e.Maybe you enjoy it?