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The mental health gender-gap in urban India: Patterns and narratives


  • Das, Jishnu
  • Das, Ranendra Kumar
  • Das, Veena


Women report significantly higher levels of mental distress than men in community studies around the world. We provide further evidence on the origins of this mental health gender-gap using data from 789 adults, primarily spousal pairs, from 300 families in Delhi, India. These data were collected between 2001 and 2003. We first confirm that, like in other studies, women report higher levels of mental distress and that gender differences in education, household expenditures and age do not explain the mental health gender-gap. In contrast, women report significantly higher levels of distress than men in families with adverse reproductive outcomes, particularly the death of a child. Controlling for adverse reproductive outcomes sharply reduces the mental health gender-gap. Finally, mental health is strongly correlated with physical health for both men and women, but there is little evidence of a differential response by sex. We complement this empirical description with anthropological analysis based on ethnographic interviews with 100 men and 100 women. With the help of these ethnographic interviews we show how adverse life events for women are experienced as the inability to maintain the domestic, which seems to be at stake within their life worlds. We raise issues for further research on the apparent finding that the mental health of women and men are differentially affected by adverse reproductive events in the family in this sample.

Suggested Citation

  • Das, Jishnu & Das, Ranendra Kumar & Das, Veena, 2012. "The mental health gender-gap in urban India: Patterns and narratives," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(9), pages 1660-1672.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:9:p:1660-1672
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.06.018

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Krishnan, Suneeta & Rocca, Corinne H. & Hubbard, Alan E. & Subbiah, Kalyani & Edmeades, Jeffrey & Padian, Nancy S., 2010. "Do changes in spousal employment status lead to domestic violence? Insights from a prospective study in Bangalore, India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 136-143, January.
    2. Patel, Vikram & Araya, Ricardo & de Lima, Mauricio & Ludermir, Ana & Todd, Charles, 1999. "Women, poverty and common mental disorders in four restructuring societies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 49(11), pages 1461-1471, December.
    3. Vijayendra Rao & Ana Maria Ibanez, 2005. "The Social Impact of Social Funds in Jamaica: A 'Participatory Econometric' Analysis of Targeting, Collective Action, and Participation in Community-Driven Development," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(5), pages 788-838.
    4. Editors, 2003. "Editor's Introduction," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(2), pages 315-318, April.
    5. Editors, 2003. "Editor's Introduction," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(4), pages 645-648, October.
    6. Das, Jishnu & Sanchez-Paramo, Carolina, 2003. "Short but not sweet - new evidence on short duration morbidities from India," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2971, The World Bank.
    7. Das, Jishnu & Do, Quy-Toan & Friedman, Jed & McKenzie, David & Scott, Kinnon, 2007. "Mental health and poverty in developing countries: Revisiting the relationship," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 467-480, August.
    8. Rodrigues, Merlyn & Patel, Vikram & Jaswal, Surinder & de Souza, Nandita, 2003. "Listening to mothers: qualitative studies on motherhood and depression from Goa, India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(10), pages 1797-1806, November.
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