Biology, brain chemistry, and finances could play a role
Higher education comes at a cost.
Female graduate students enrolled in both doctoral and master’s degree programs are likelier than male grad students to suffer from intense depression and anxiety, per a new survey from the University of Texas Health Center at San Antonio.
Of the 2,279 survered, 43% of female grads reported having moderate to severe anxiety, and 41% were depressed. Compare that to the 34% and 35% of male students who fell into the same categories, respectively. The numbers were even higher for transgender students and those who do not identify as either male or female (“gender nonconforming”): 55% and 57%, respectively.
Overall, grad students were six times likelier than the general population to experience anxiety or depression — proof of the tough toll higher education can take on the nerves of those who pursue it.
“There’s a lot riding on the line,” for grad students, said Dr. Teresa Evans, the lead study author and UT San Antonio professor of pharmacology. She explained that, for many grad students (especially doctoral students, who comprised the majority of survey respondents), their academic careers hinge on the outcomes of hypotheses and experiments whose results are unpredictable. If a study doesn’t pan out how they expect, that could set them a year behind in their schooling, or throw their entire career off course.
But why are female grads more prone to suffering? For one, “women respond differently in high stress environments (such as graduate education) than men,” Evans said. Depression and chronic anxiety, past studies have shown, are indeed far more common in women than men (or, at least, they’re reported more frequently by women) — and the high-stress grad school life may exacerbate these kinds of issues.
“We (also) know that there are differences in the hormone changes and fluctuations in women as compared to men; we’re talking about both estrogen and testosterone, and other hormones that affect the chemicals in our brain,” Evans said. That has been backed up by science: High levels of estrogen have been linked to increased anxiety.
Another reason Evans proffered is the demands that befall graduate students’ work-life balance (or lack thereof), while pursuing their advanced degrees. “We know that women, as caregiving beings, take on a lot of burden in caring for others, whether those be our family members or our colleagues in a lot of cases. We are programmed that way.” Previous studies have found that women spend 50% more time than men looking after their loved ones.
And we can’t discount the financial component — grad degrees are expensive, escalating to $120,000 or more in many cases. As Moneyish has previously reported, more women than men (48% versus 40%, respectively), admit to regretting taking out student loans in the long run.
“Most programs discourage students from holding a full-time job,” while enrolled, Evans concluded. So naturally, “there are students who find themselves in a financial situation where they’re struggling.”
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