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Breaking the glass ceiling may lead to depression

Getting more responsibility at work may sound like the road to success and happiness, but for some career women it appears to have a very different effect: depression.

According to a new study, women in positions of authority at work are more prone to depression, while men tend to feel happier when they're running the show.

"Although women have more depressive symptoms than men regardless of job authority, this gender gap is significantly greater among individuals with job authority than those without job authority," write the authors in their study, which was published Thursday in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

For the study, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin conducted phone interviews with 1,300 men and 1,500 women aged 54 to 64. During the interviews, which took place between 1993 and 2004, participants were asked questions about their level of responsibility at work and their mood both on the job and in their personal life.

The researchers found that when a woman's job included responsibility for hiring, firing and determining pay of subordinates, she was more likely to be depressed than a male counterpart on a similar rung of the career ladder.

The researchers picked up on a number of workplace trends that could contribute to the higher level of depression among female bosses. While women have managed to rise in the ranks in ever-increasing numbers, men still seem to have more flexibility, autonomy and control over their schedules.

"Men are also more likely to decide when to start and end work and are less frequently monitored by their supervisors than women," write the authors. "In contrast, men and women are similar in terms of time pressure, hours doing the same task, hours dealing with people and job satisfaction."

The authors say the study does have some limitations since it focused only on middle-age individuals. The psychological impact of work is likely to be different for female executives of a younger generation who experienced less resistance to women in the workplace and may be more happy to "lean in."

However, the study suggests that women in positions of power continue to run up against gender stereotypes. The authors point out that traits typically associated with bosses -- power, dominance, competitiveness and ambition -- are also generally associated with masculinity. On the other hand, traits such as empathy, attachment and nurturance, which are more often seen as female attributes, are not deemed as valuable when it comes to leadership.

"Despite the sweeping changes in women's educational and occupational opportunities in recent decades, job authority may still constitute a psychological risk for women," the authors conclude. "Even in the new economy, organizations are still gendered and women continue to lag behind men with respect to authority."

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