Sunday, October 14, 2007

Depression Rates and Career Choices

A study came out ranking jobs by depression rates. At the top of the list (of fully employed people) were people in personal care fields like child care and care for the elderly. Second were food service workers and third were health care workers. The bottom of the list was occupied by engineers and architects.

I'm particularly interested in why engineers and architects have such lower depression rates, seeing as I fall in that category myself. Why is this? Is this because we are much less emotional overall? Is it because our jobs do not require much empathy for others? This would seem to correlate well with the personal care workers and health care workers being at positions 1 and 3, but I'm not sure food service workers need to have that much more empathy than engineers or health care workers. Having never worked in food service, though, perhaps that impression is way off base. I doubt it is correlated too strongly with intelligence or education level, since health care workers tend to be a bright lot, though perhaps doctors and the like are a small minority in the overall field. This study reminds me of studies Mark has blogged about in the past that looked at traits which are associated with human happiness. Overall, it is a fascinating field. It would be interesting to see the actual study and not just an AP article.



MarkC said...


I can tell you that I would be depressed if I were in the food service industry, from all I've seen and heard about it!

The food-service industry has a particularly difficult combination of factors, it seems to me. They have low margins, so they have to be extremely efficient (meaning rushed and understaffed) to be profitable. They have an extremely low tolerance for error (a single unsanitary meal could almost put a company out of business). And they have to work directly with the public almost constantly (meaning they have to always appear happy and friendly).

Working under that type of pressure, but having to pretend that you are not under pressure, is a recipe for depression (forgive the pun).

In addition to that, there's the customer factor. Somehow, being at a restaurant turns many otherwise normal, considerate people into insolent jerks. I'm not sure why it is, but I've observed it over and over.

So, it doesn't surprise me that the foodservice industry is high on the list. And I'm glad that I don't work any where near it, myself. :)


Kevin said...

Fox News was kind enough to link to the government's "Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration" website where the report originated: The NSDUH Report: Depression Among Adults Employed Full-time by Occupational Category

As MB indicated, I think engineers work in a field where there are solutions, cause and effect with feedback, and the logic required can distance us from emotional investment.

Mark tackled the food service industry very well. I think the health care profession can also be quite draining, being around sick people all day, often with terrible hours and high stress (someone's health or life is in your hands). Feedback and successes probably seem fewer and measured by not seeing a patient anymore.

It looks like depressed workers are about twice as likely to be female, though I think that may be a reminder not to confuse correlation with causation, as I suspect women are more likely to be drawn to the health care industry.

I also wouldn't be surprised if drug use in general correlated with health care workers, and the depression data in general.


Sarah said...

Fascinating! I love the stuff you guys post here. :)

MamasBoy said...

Thanks for the further comments. They have certainly helped me think through this more.


purple_kangaroo said...

Extremely difficult, emotionally draining work with low pay and taxing hours that don't leave enough time for the rest and relaxation needed to maintain health and good moods would lead to higher rates of depression, I'd think.

I also wonder if engineer/technical-types are less likely to spend time thinking about how they feel and whether they're depressed or not, and if that could skew the survey results? Is it possible that fields that require high levels of logic and precision may lend themselves to attracting people who give emotions like depression a bit less credence or don't see their feelings as being as important? Just a thought.

I would have to wonder, in general, how many people answering this type of survey might have been depressed and either didn't know it or didn't want to admit it, or just didn't want to treat it with drugs?

MamasBoy said...

PK said, "Is it possible that fields that require high levels of logic and precision may lend themselves to attracting people who give emotions like depression a bit less credence or don't see their feelings as being as important?"

A reasonable hypothesis. It makes logical sense to me, no matter how I'm feeling today.