Data Type: Journal Article

Sex differences in mental illness: a comment on Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend.

Gove, Walter R. and Tudor, Jeanette. (1977). Sex differences in mental illness: a comment on Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 82, No. 6 pp. 1327-1336.

This article acts to defend the conclusions found in a previously published article written by the same authors, Gove and Tudor. The authors rebut Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend, a pair of psychologists who have published an article which criticizes Gove and Tudor’s initial claims that there are meaningful differences among the rates of psychological disorder of men and women. Gove and Tudor’s studies suggest that in contemporary Western industrial nations, women, due to the increasing pressures attributed to their gender roles, frequently test higher for rates of mental illness than men. To defend their results, Gove and Tudor refine and reiterate their definition of mental illness, stating that it is any disorder involving personal discomfort due to distress, anxiety and depression and/or mental disorganization characterized by symptoms of confusion, thought blockage, inhibition of motor skills, hallucinations or delusions.

Gove and Tudor’s main finding is that women’s rates of mental illness have increased in recent decades because of the transformation and alteration of feminine gender roles established in the 1970s in modern Western industrial nations and cultures. The authors argue that up until this point, the rates of mental illness between men and women had been examined primarily through a biological determinist approach to sex differences, rather than an analysis of gender roles. The authors assert that the differences between rates of mental illness between the two sexes can be explained more accurately and more significantly by first analyzing the differences between socially-imposed gender roles. The authors provide previously recorded statistics which compare the rates of male mental illness to female mental illness over a few decades, and point out that the rates among women have risen since the 1920s around the time of women’s suffrage, and have steadily risen through the years after WWII, which is when the statistics first began to surpass rates of male mental illness in studies conducted in both North America and in Europe. Neuroses and psychoses in particular are highlighted as becoming more common among women in such nations. The rates of mental illness directly correlate with the rising social status and power of women in modern industrial cultures.

The title of the article can be misleading, as the study focuses on gender roles (referred to as “sex roles” within this article published in 1977) rather than sexual orientations or even physical sex. The article does not directly relate to contemporary research being conducted on the psychiatric treatment of sexual minorities or ‘queer’ bodies. However, its findings highlight how as the status of a minority community in a society fluctuates, so too do the rates of mental illness in the minority community begin to shift. There appears to be a direct correlation between the rising social influence and/or power of a community and its rates of psychological disorder, or at least of rates of diagnosis and how we understand these rates. In the context of this article, as the social power, influence and position of women in the U.S. and in Europe begins to rise throughout the 20th century, the rate of mental illness among these women also rises within these modern industrial nations. This article may be of interest to those studying the rate of mental illness in other specific minority groups , e.g. queer bodies, as the data found in this piece could prove useful when analyzing the rates of mental illness among other socially stigmatized or minority groups. The piece may also be an interesting case study to explore Durkheimian framings of anomie and mental illness in industrialized, late-capitalist settings.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness
Publication Date: 1977