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Macro-level gender equality and women’s depressive symptoms in South Korea: a longitudinal study



In 2014, the Korean Government passed the Gender Equality Act, which was accompanied by policies to increase women’s participation in the labour force and representation in positions of power in the public and private sectors. While Korea has witnessed modest progress in macro-level gender equality, little is known about the effects of these changes on mental health outcomes. Our study investigated the relationship between regional-level gender equality (as measured by women’s economic and political power) and women’s depressive symptoms from 2013–18, and whether the effects differed across women from different socioeconomic positions.


To examine how change over time in political and economic power influences the severity of depressive symptoms, we applied a fixed-effect regression, using a nationally representative sample for women aged 19–64 (n = 9,589) from the Korean Longitudinal Survey of Women and Families (2013–2018, wave 4 to 6) residing across the 16 regions of South Korea.


Our study found that increases in women’s political and economic power led to moderate reductions in depressive symptoms (–0.25 and –0.23 points in CESD respectively). Sensitivity analyses indicate that economic power is more consistently associated with subsequent reductions in CESD. The effect of economic and political power on depressive symptoms did not differ by women’s socioeconomic positions.


Our findings suggest that even modest improvements in gender equality were associated with increases in women’s mental health. Further progress to ensure gender equality, such as the anti-discrimination legislation, may lead to greater improvements in public mental health.

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Data availability

The Korean Longitudinal Survey of Women and Families is publicly available from the Korean Women’s Development Institute website.


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Funding for this study and the principal investigator, Antony Chum, are supported by the Canada Research Chair programme (CRC-2021–00269). The funding agencies had no role in the design and conduct of the study; the collection, management, analysis or interpretation of the data; the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript; or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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Authors and Affiliations



CK and AC conceived the study, CK, CT, AN and AC drafted the first versions of the manuscript, and CK performed the data management and statistical analyses. Funding was provided by AC for the study. All authors contributed to the design of the study and the interpretation of data, contributed important intellectual content to the manuscript and have approved the final version to be published.

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Correspondence to Antony Chum.

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On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Kim, C., Teo, C., Nielsen, A. et al. Macro-level gender equality and women’s depressive symptoms in South Korea: a longitudinal study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2022).

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  • Women
  • Gender equality
  • Depression
  • Mental health
  • Longitudinal study
  • Asia