, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 239-256
Date: 16 Jun 2010

The Gender Gap in Depressive Symptoms Among Japanese Elders: Evaluating Social Support and Health as Mediating Factors

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Abstract

Depression has been described as the world’s most prevalent illness and a leading cause of disability across age groups. The global literature on aging and depression reports greater prevalence of depressive symptoms among women than men. This research applies data from the Nihon University Japanese Longitudinal Study of Aging to the gender gap in depressive symptoms reported by Japanese elders. This study takes the position that cultural norms centered on obligations to care determine both the prevalence of social support and its application by family members. Since gender is the lens through which social and cultural expectations are filtered, the experiences of men and women are distinguished from one another. This study hypothesized that coresidency and filial obligations should protect elders from depression. At the same time, combative relationships within households were posited to aggravate depressive symptoms among mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Weak social support networks, as captured through not being married, living alone and lack of community contact were also hypothesized to exacerbate isolation and heighten depressive symptoms. The analyses found that receipt of support both protected elders as well as worsened depressive symptoms. While women reported greater frequency of depressive symptoms overall, results indicated that men experienced a larger effect of decreased mobility and transitions to poor physical health on depressive symptoms than women.