Men who think they may lose their jobs become more depressed and stressed than women in the same situation, even though they claim to be less concerned, according to new findings from Cambridge University that suggest the credit crunch may prove easier on women.
Brendan Burchell, the Cambridge sociologist who carried out the research, said, ''Men, unlike women, have few positive ways of defining themselves outside of the workplace between when they leave school and when they retire.
"Despite several decades of more equal employment opportunities for men and women, men retain traditional beliefs that their masculinity is threatened if their employment is threatened," he added.
The research measured men's stress levels using a general health questionnaire, including such questions as ''Have you recently been thinking of yourself as a worthless person?'' and ''Have you recently been able to concentrate on whatever you are doing?''
It analysed the results of a study of more than 300 employees, as well as data from the British Household Panel Survey, a huge pool of information on thousands of people which has been charting the effects of social and economic change since 1991.
The research also indicates that those who are working but worried about losing their job suffer ever increasing strain.
The stress and anxiety of people who had become unemployed ''bottomed out'' after about six months as they adapted to their new circumstances. By contrast, the mental health of people who had not lost their jobs but thought they might be fired steady worsening for one to two years.
Burchell said, ''Given that most economic forecasts predict that the recession will be long with a slow recovery, the results mean that many people – and men in particular – could be entering into a period of prolonged and growing misery.''
Commenting on possible solutions, Burchell stressed the need ''to restabilise the City'' – adding a mental health angle to the well-rehearsed economic arguments for shoring up the banking system.
Burchell is currently analysing the study results of more than 300 UK employees as well as data from the British Household Panel Survey. Both projects use standard clinical measures (called the "GHQ 12") which pick up symptoms of stress and anxiety. This enabled Burchell to carry out the first ever study on a representative sample of how job insecurity was linked to changes in psychological welfare over time.