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Women More Stressed than Men, Says Survey

Vivia Chen

March 6, 2013

Pulling_Hair © Maridav - Fotolia.comSo how do many American women really feel about their jobs? My hunch is that the following description pretty much nails it:

Too much work, too little money and not enough opportunity for growth . . .

That, in a nutshell, is how The Wall Street Journal summarizes the findings of a new survey by the American Psychological Association. The WSJ reports that about a third of all employees of both sexes experience chronic work-related stress, but that "women report higher levels of work stress than men, as well as a gnawing sense that they are underappreciated and underpaid."

Specifically, the APA finds that almost half of the women (48 percent) feel less valued than men at work, and only 43 percent of women feel they "receive adequate monetary compensation for their work" (versus 48 percent of men). Moreover, only 35 percent of women think that they have opportunities for internal career advancement (versus 43 percent of men).

Stressed, underpaid, and gloomy about advancement possibilities—is this striking a chord? I think these traits will hit home for women in a variety of professions, but maybe even more so for women stuck in some of those dead-end positions at law firms (remember, for the second year in a row, women make up 70 percent of staff lawyers).

So exactly how stressed are women in the workforce? Here's how the APA sums up some of the main differences between the sexes:

 --Women report higher stress levels than men (28 percent vs. 20 percent, scoring 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point stress scale).

--Nearly 50 percent of women (49 percent) say their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to 39 percent of men.

--Women report more physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, including headaches (41 percent vs. 30 percent), inclination to cry (44 percent vs. 15 percent), or upset stomachs (32 percent vs. 21 percent).

The report doesn't delve into the causes, though the WSJ offers that women are likely feeling the financial pressure of having to support a family. Since 2009, reports the WSJ, women contribute about 47 percent to family earnings, compared to 38 percent in 1998.

What might also exacerbate the stress for women is that they tend to internalize their frustrations, reports the WSJ:

Emotional responses to stress often divide along gender lines, with men more likely to have a "fight or flight" reaction while women are more likely to have a "tend and befriend" response, seeking comfort in relationships and care of loved ones, according to research by Shelley E. Taylor, health psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and others.

In other words, instead of challenging the inequities or finding a new job, women will shut up and stay put. I know it's become a cliché, but women still have a hard time making a fuss about getting better assignments, credit, and more money (click here and here). We're too loyal, too scared, or just too damn grateful for having a job.

Pathetic, right?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

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Women's stress in the worklplace also is a function of the demands of (usually) being the primary caregiver of our children and CEO of the home. By nature, women tend to multi-task while men are better at focused, "mono" tasking, just as it was in the stone ages when men were hunters - going out for the big kill every so often - and women were gatherers -constantly seeking food.

I still can't get over every time I hear how women - women who are lawyers, no less - are too shy to ask for raises, "tend and befriend," etc.

Yea, right! lolzzzz

Women can get "better assignments, credit and more money," but they have to be willing to negotiate for them. Many lawyers aren't skilled negotiators and even those who are falter when negotiating for themselves. Here are terrific FREE self-guided resources from She Negotiates with information on how to do it. http://www.shenegotiates.com/blog/2013/1/30/empower-yourself-and-close-your-wage-gap-with-our-free-self.html

It's not pathetic as much as it is tragic. High stress leads to disease and decreases ones quality of life. Also, unlike men, because of historical sexism, we're probably more likely to believe that the system is unfair in general and not just blame one employer. If you believe that you're more likely to grin and bear it.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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