Women make up 56% of all service workers and 67% of all tipped workers, but are tipped less than men on average.
Keep this in mind next time you’re tempted not to tip.
Service workers who rely on tips are at higher risk for depression, sleep problems and stress compared to those who work in non-tipped positions, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Using data that followed 20,000 women and men from around the U.S. over the span of 14 years, researchers compared the risk of those conditions for women and men with an average age of 28 across different occupation types: tipped service (e.g., restaurant servers), untipped service (fast-food workers) and non-service (administrative work that doesn’t rely on tips).
“Individuals who earn the bulk for their income from tips from customers face additional vulnerabilities,” lead study author Sarah Andrea, a graduate research assistant from Oregon Health and Science University, told Moneyish. “In many states, tipped workers are paid as little as $2.13 an hour and rely on customers to make up the difference in tips, which are inequitable and unpredictable. Workers in this industry often lack control over hours and shifts worked, and have insufficient access to health care and other benefits.”
And based on what we know, the service industry — particularly the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes the majority of tipped workers — is simultaneously one of the fastest-growing and lowest-paid, Andrea added. The hotel sector, for example, is projected to have 5 to 6% growth throughout 2018, according to Deloitte. Meanwhile, the approximately 102 million Americans who work service jobs in industries such as restaurant, salon, and transportation, are often paid at rates up to 71% lower than the federal minimum wage, according to the Pew Research Center.
Research suggests a number of reasons mental health issues are common among these workers. On average, tipped workers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to those who don’t rely on tips, due to their low wages and higher poverty levels, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In addition, service workers in both tipped and untipped positions often have to show restraint by suppressing certain emotions during interactions with customers, which can impact their mental and emotional well-being, according to Andrea’s study.
Kate Williams, 22, who works at a small restaurant in Rhinebeck, N.Y., sometimes enjoys waitressing, but has her share of negative customer experiences daily. “I definitely think my job affects my mental health,” she told Moneyish. “There are days when people are so friendly and days where people are so horrible, I’m tempted to kick them out.”
For female service workers like Williams, who make up 56% of all service workers and 67% of all tipped workers, the risk of mental health issues are even worse: Women in tipped-service occupations have 61% higher odds of reporting depression symptoms or diagnoses when compared to women in non-service occupations, the study found.
And as a woman of color, Kate says some of her experiences have heightened her insecurities: “Being a woman in the food industry is hard, but being a woman of color in the food industry is even harder,” she said, adding that she’s had a number of interactions in which customers have made rude comments and stereotyped her because she’s Chinese.
Although the reasons for these gender differences can only be speculated, Andrea explained, they could be because women are at high risk of sexual harassment in addition to being tipped less than men on average. “We observed that a greater proportion of men in tipped occupations had access to health benefits and that they made more per hour than women on average,” she added.
But finding solutions to reduce the mental health impacts of service work falls not only on the ability of workers to organize, but also on employers’ obligations to provide stable work conditions, Andrea said.
“Improving working conditions to provide higher wages, predictable and stable schedules, and adequate benefits may alleviate the stressors common in tipped occupations,” she said. “Solutions will likely be found through collaborative efforts from policymakers, employers, and workers and their unions.”
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