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Open Access Research article

Workplace gender composition and psychological distress: the importance of the psychosocial work environment

Sofia Elwér*, Klara Johansson and Anne Hammarström

Author Affiliations

Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, SE90187, Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:241  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-241

Published: 10 March 2014

Abstract

Background

Health consequences of the gender segregated labour market have previously been demonstrated in the light of gender composition of occupations and workplaces, with somewhat mixed results. Associations between the gender composition and health status have been suggested to be shaped by the psychosocial work environment. The present study aims to analyse how workplace gender composition is related to psychological distress and to explore the importance of the psychosocial work environment for psychological distress at workplaces with different gender compositions.

Methods

The study population consisted of participants from the Northern Swedish Cohort with a registered workplace in 2007 when the participants were 42 years old (N = 795). Questionnaire data were supplemented with register data on the gender composition of the participants’ workplaces divided into three groups: workplaces with more women, mixed workplaces, and workplaces with more men. Associations between psychological distress and gender composition were analysed with multivariate logistic regression analysis adjusting for socioeconomic position, previous psychological distress, psychosocial work environment factors and gender. Logistic regression analyses (including interaction terms for gender composition and each work environment factor) were also used to assess differential associations between psychosocial work factor and psychological distress according to gender composition.

Results

Working at workplaces with a mixed gender composition was related to a higher likelihood of psychological distress compared to workplaces with more men, after adjustments for socioeconomic position, psychological distress at age 21, psychosocial work environment factors and gender. Psychosocial work environment factors did not explain the association between gender composition and psychological distress.

Conclusions

The association between gender composition and psychological distress cannot be explained by differences in the perception of the psychosocial work environment and thus the work environment hypothesis is not supported. Workplaces with a mixed gender composition needs further research attention to explain the negative development of psychological distress during working life for both women and men at these workplaces.

Keywords:
Workplace; Gender composition; Gender; Psychological distress; Psychosocial work environment; Gender segregation