Background: The increasing gender equality during the 20th century, mainly in the Nordic countries, represents a major social change. A well-established theory is that this may affect the mental health patterns of women and men. This study aimed at examining associations between childhood and adulthood gendered life on mental ill-health symptoms.
Methods: A follow-up study of a cohort of all school leavers in a medium-sized industrial town in northern Sweden was performed from age 16 to age 42. Of those still alive of the original cohort, 94% (n = 1007) participated during the whole period. Gendered life was divided into three stages according to whether they were traditional or non-traditional (the latter includes equal): childhood (mother's paid work position), adulthood at age 30 (ideology and childcare), and adulthood at age 42 (partnership and childcare). Mental ill-health was measured by self-reported anxious symptoms ("frequent nervousness") and depressive symptoms ("frequent sadness") at age 42. The statistical method was logistic regression analysis, finally adjusted for earlier mental ill-health symptoms and social confounding factors.
Results: Generally, parents' gendered life was not decisive for a person's own gendered life, and adulthood gender position ruled out the impact of childhood gender experience on self-reported mental ill-health. For women, non-traditional gender ideology at age 30 was associated with decreased risk of anxious symptoms (76% for traditional childhood, 78% for non-traditional childhood). For men, non-traditional childcare at age 42 was associated with decreased risk of depressive symptoms (84% for traditional childhood, 78% for non-traditional childhood). A contradictory indication was that non-traditional women in childcare at age 30 had a threefold increased risk of anxious symptoms at age 42, but only when having experienced a traditional childhood.
Conclusion: Adulthood gender equality is generally good for self-reported mental health regardless of whether one opposes or continues one's gendered history. However, the childcare findings indicate a differentiated picture; men seem to benefit in depressive symptoms from embracing this traditionally female duty, while women suffer anxious symptoms from departing from it, if their mother did not.
2012. Vol. 12, 493- p.