Discrimination has been conceptualized as a stressor that may be more negative than generic stress because it is tied to valued and unchangeable social identities. As with other stressful events, the experience of sexism has been related to poorer mental health and some physical health outcomes. This study of 179 female college students (79% of whom were White) showed that the relation between perceived sexism and binge drinking and smoking was mediated by psychological distress. In addition, there was a direct relation between sexism and smoking for weight control. Given the large toll that tobacco and excessive alcohol use exact on the U.S. population, we suggest that policy makers aim to reduce discrimination as one method to improve overall health.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Assaf, A. R., Parker, D., Lapane, K. L., McKenney, J. L., & Carleton, R. A. (2002). Are there gender differences in self-reported smoking practices? Correlation with thiocyanate and cotinine levels in smokers and nonsmokers from the Pawtucket Heart Health Program. Journal of Women’s Health, 11, 899–906.
Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.
Bowen-Reid, T. L., & Harrell, J. P. (2002). Racist experiences and health outcomes: An examination of spirituality as a buffer. Journal of Black Psychology, 28, 18–36.
Bray, R. M., Fairbank, J. A., & Marsden, M. E. (1999). Stress and substance use among military women and men. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 25, 239–256.
Buchanan, T., & Smith, J. L. (1999). Using the internet for psychological research: Personality testing on the World Wide Web. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 125–144.
Cain, V. S., & Kington, R. S. (2003). Investigating the role of racial/ethnic bias in health outcomes. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 191–192.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Tobacco information and prevention source: Overview. Retrieved August 23, 2004 from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/issue.htm.
Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., & Williams, D. R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: A biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54, 805–816.
Crawford, M., & Unger, R. (2000). Women and gender: A feminist psychology (3rd edn.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
Cutler, S. E., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1991). Accounting for sex differences in depression through female victimization: Childhood sexual abuse. Sex Roles, 24, 425–438.
Davis, T. M., & Wood, P. S. (1999). Substance abuse and sexual trauma in a female veteran population. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 16, 123–127.
Diaz, R. M., Ayala, G., Bein, E., Henne, J., & Marin, B. V. (2001). The impact of homophobia, poverty, and racism on the mental health of gay and bisexual latino men: Findings from three US cities. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 927–932.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.
Dillman, D. A. (2000). Mail and internet surveys: The tailored design method (2nd edn.). New York: Wiley.
Dixit, A. R., & Crum, R. M. (2000). Prospective study of depression and the risk of healthy alcohol use in women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 751–758.
Dolcini, M. M., Adler, N. E., & Bauman, K. E. (2003). An assessment of the validity of adolescent self-reported smoking using three biological indicators. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 5, 473–483.
Dohrenwend, B. S., Krasnoff, L., Askenasy, A. R., & Dohrenwend, B. P. (1978). Exemplification of a method for scaling life events: The PERI Life Events Scale. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 19, 205–229.
Fergusson, D. M., Goodwin, R. D., & Horwood, L. J. (2003). Major depression and cigarette smoking: Results of a 21-year longitudinal study. Psychological Medicine, 33, 1357–1367.
Figueroa-Moseley, C. D., Landrine, H., & Klonoff, E. A. (2004). Sexual abuse and smoking among college student women. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 245–251.
Fredrickson, B. F., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206.
Goldenhar, L. M., Swanson, N. G., Hurrell, J. J., Jr., Ruder, A., & Deddens, J. (1998). Stressors and adverse outcomes for female construction workers. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 19–32.
Gosling, S. D., Vazire, S., Srivastava, S., & John, O. P. (2003). Should we trust web-based studies? A comparative analysis of six preconceptions about internet questionnaires. American Psychologist, 59, 93–104.
Gurthrie, B. J., Young, A. M., Williams, D. R., Boyd, C. J., & Kintner, E. K. (2002). African American girls’ smoking habits and day-to-day experiences with racial discrimination. Nursing Research, 51, 183–190.
Gutek, B. A., & Done, R. S. (2001). Sexual harassment. In R. K. Unger (Ed.), Handbook of the psychology of women and gender (pp. 367–387). New York: Wiley.
Guyll, M., Matthews, K. A., & Bromberger, J. T. (2001). Discrimination and unfair treatment: Relationship to cardiovascular reactivity among African American and European American women. Health Psychology, 20, 315–325.
Holahan, C. J., Moos, R. H., Holahan, C. K., Cronkite, R. C., & Randall, P. K. (2004). Unipolar depression, life context vulnerabilities, and drinking to cope. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 269–275.
Jacobson, B. (1986). Beating the ladykillers: Women and smoking. London: Pluto.
Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2005). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2004: Volume II, College students and adults ages 19–45 (NIH Publication no. 05-5728). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Kendler, K. S., Neale, M. C., Maclean, C. J., Heath, A. C., Eaves, L. J., & Kessler, R. C. (1993). Smoking and major depression: A causal analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 36–43.
Kilbourne, J. (1994). Still killing us softly: Advertising and the obsession with thinness. In P. Fallon, M. A. Katzman, & S. C. Wooley (Eds.), Feminist perspectives on eating disorders (pp. 395–418). New York: Guilford.
Klonoff, E. A., Landrine, H., & Campbell, R. (2000). Sexist discrimination may account for well-known gender differences in psychiatric symptoms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 93–99.
Knapp, H., & Kirk, S. A. (2003). Using pencil and paper, internet, and touch-tone phones for self-administered surveys: Does methodology matter? Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 117–134.
Krieger, N. (1990). Racial and gender discrimination: Risk factors for high blood pressure? Social Science & Medicine, 30, 1273–1281.
Krieger, N. (1999). Embodying inequality: A review of concepts, measures, and methods for studying health consequences of discrimination. International Journal of Health Services, 29, 295–352.
Krieger, N. (2005). Embodiment: A conceptual glossary for epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 59, 350–355.
Krieger, N., Rowley, D. L., Herman, A. A., Avery, B., & Phillips, M. T. (1993). Racism, sexism, and social class: Implications for studies of health, disease, and well-being. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 9, 82–122.
Kwate, N. O., Valdimarsdottir, H. B., Guevarra, J. S., & Bovbjerg, D. H. (2003). Experiences of racist events are associated with negative health consequences for African American women. Journal of the National Medical Association, 95, 450–460.
Landrine, H., & Klonoff, E. A. (1996). The schedule of racist events: A measure of racial discrimination and a study of its negative physical and mental health consequences. Journal of Black Psychology, 22, 144–168.
Landrine, H., & Klonoff, E. A. (1997). Discrimination against women: Prevalence, consequences, remedies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Landrine, H., Klonoff, E. A., Gibbs, J., Manning, V., & Lund, M. (1995). Physical and psychiatric correlates of gender discrimination. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 19, 473–492.
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Berlin Heidelberg New York: Springer.
Lips, H. M. (2005). Sex and gender: An introduction (5th edn.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
MacDonald, M., & Wright, N. E. (2002). Cigarette smoking and the disenfranchisement of adolescent girls: A discourse of resistance? Health Care for Women International, 23, 281–305.
Matteson, A. V., & Moradi, B. (2005). Examining the structure of the Schedule of Sexist Events: Replication and extension. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 47–57.
McCabe, S. E. (2004). Comparison of web and mail surveys in collecting illicit drug use data: A randomized experiment. Journal of Drug Education, 24, 61–72.
McCabe, S. E., Boyd, C. J., Couper, M. P., Crawford, S., & D’Arcy, H. (2002). Mode effects for collecting alcohol and other drug use data: Web and U.S. mail. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63, 755–761.
Moradi, B., Dirks, D., & Matteson, A. V. (2005). Roles of sexual objectificaiton experiences and internalization of standards of beauty in eating disorder symptomatology: A test and extenstion of objectification theory. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 420–428.
Moradi, B., & Subich, L. M. (2002). Perceived sexist events and feminist identity development attitudes: Links to women’s psychological distress. Counseling Psychologist, 30, 44–65.
Moradi, B., & Subich, L. M. (2003). A concomitant examination of the relations of perceived racist and sexist events to psychological distress for African American women. Counseling Psychologist, 31, 451–469.
Moradi, B., & Subich, L. M. (2004). Examining the moderating role of self-esteem in the link between experiences of perceived sexist events and psychological distress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51, 50–56.
Moran, P. B., Vuchinich, S., & Hall, N. K. (2004). Associations between types of maltreatment and substance use during adolescence. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 565–574.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2002). Use of selected substances in the past month by persons 12 years of age and over, according to age, sex, race and Hispanic origin: United States, select years 1979–99. Retrieved April 12, 2002 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hus/tables/2001/01hus063.pdf.
Neath, J. (1997). Social causes of impairment, disability, and abuse: A feminist perspective. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 8, 195–230.
Nelson, E. C., Heath, A. C., Madden, P. A. F., Cooper, M. L., Dinwiddie, S. H., Bucholz, K. K., et al. (2002). Association between self-reported childhood sexual abuse and adverse psychosocial outcomes: Results from a twin study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 139–145.
Ng, D. M., & Jeffery, R. W. (2003). Relationships between perceived stress and health behaviors in a sample of working adults. Health Psychology, 22, 638–642.
O’Malley, P. M., Johnston, L. D., & Bachman, J. G. (1999). Epidemiology of substance abuse in adolescence. In P. J. Ott, R. E. Tarter, & R. T. Ammerman (Eds.), Sourcebook on substance abuse: Etiology, epidemiology, assessment, and treatment (pp. 14–31). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Pals, J. L. (1999). Identity consolidation in early adulthood: Relations with ego-resiliency, the context of marriage, and personality change. Journal of Personality, 67, 295–329.
Pavalko, E. K., Mossakowski, K. N., & Hamilton, V. J. (2003). Does perceived discrimination affect health? Longitudinal relationships between work discrimination and women’s physical and emotional health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 18–33.
Pharr, S. (1997). Homophobia: A weapon of sexism (expanded edn.). Berkeley, CA: Chardon.
Pomerleau, C. S., Ehrlich, E., Tate, J. C., Marks, J. L., Flessland, K. A., & Pomerleau, O. F. (1993). The female weight-control smoker: A profile. Journal of Substance Abuse, 5, 391–400.
Pomerleau, C. S., Zucker, A. N., & Stewart, A. J. (2003). Patterns of depressive symptomatology in women smokers, ex-smokers, and never smokers. Addictive Behaviors, 28, 575–582.
Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2004). SPSS and SAS procedures for estimating indirect effects in simple mediation models. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 36, 717–731.
Rosario, M., Rotheram-Borus, M. J., & Reid, H. (1996). Gay-related stress and its correlates among gay and bisexual male adolescents of predominantly Black and Hispanic background. Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 136–159.
Rospenda, K. M. (2002). Workplace harassment, services utilization, and drinking outcomes. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7, 141–155.
Schonlau, M., Fricker, R. D., & Elliott, M. N. (2002). Conducting research surveys via e-mail and the Web. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.
Sparks, E. (2002). Depression and schizophrenia in women: The intersection of gender, race/ethnicity, and class. In M. Ballou & L. S. Brown (Eds.), Rethinking mental health and disorder: Feminist perspectives (pp. 279–305). New York: Guilford.
Swim, J. K., Hyers, L. L., Cohen, L. L., & Ferguson, M. J. (2001). Everyday sexism: Evidence for its incidence, nature, and psychological impact from three daily diary studies. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 31–53.
Szymanski, D. M. (2005). Heterosexism and sexism as correlates of psychological distress in lesbians. Journal of Counseling and Development, 83, 355–360.
Thompson, B. W. (1994). A hunger so wide and so deep: A multiracial view of women’s eating problems. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Thompson, M. P., Arias, I., Basile, K. C., & Desai, S. (2002). The association between childhood physical and sexual victimization and health problems in adulthood in a nationally representative sample of women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 1115–1129.
Vartiainen, E., Seppala, T., Lillsunde, P., & Puska, P. (2002). Validation of self reported smoking by serum cotinine measurement in a community-based study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 56, 167–170.
Veroff, J., & Feld, S. (1970). Marriage and work in America: A study of motives and roles. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Vickers, K. S., Patten, C. A., Bronars, C., Lane, K., Stevens, S. R., Croghan, I. T., et al. (2004). Binge drinking in female college students: The association of physical activity, weight concern, and depressive symptoms. Journal of American College Health, 53, 133–140.
Wallace, J. M., Jr. (1999). Explaining race differences in adolescent and young adult drug use: The role of racialized social systems. Drugs and Society, 14, 21–36.
Wechsler, H., Davenport, A., Dowdall, G., Moeykens, B., & Castillo, S. (1994). Health and behavioral consequences of binge drinking in college: A national survey of students at 140 campuses. Journal of the American Medical Association, 272, 1672–1677.
Wechsler, H., Dowdall, G. W., Davenport, A., & Rimm, E. B. (1995). A gender-specific measure of binge drinking among college students. American Journal of Public Health, 85, 982–985.
Wechsler, H., & Nelson, T. F. (2001). Binge drinking and the American college student: What’s five drinks? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15, 287–291.
Weitzman, E. R. (2004). Poor mental health, depression, and associations with alcohol consumption, harm, and abuse in a national sample of young adults in college. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 192, 269–277.
Whittle, K. L., & Inhorn, M. C. (2001). Rethinking difference: A feminist reframing of gender/race/class for the improvement of women’s health research. International Journal of Health Services, 31, 147–165.
Williams, D. R., Neighbors, H. W., & Jackson, J. S. (2003). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: Findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 200–208.
Wise, L. A., Zierler, S., Krieger, N., & Harlow, B. L. (2001). Adult onset of major depressive disorder in relation to early life violent vicitimisation: A case-control study. Lancet, 358, 881–887.
Yen, I. H., Ragland, D. R., Greiner, B. A., & Fisher, J. M. (1999). Workplace discrimination and alcohol consumption: Findings from the San Francisco muni health and safety study. Ethnicity & Disease, 9, 70–80.
Young, A. M., Morales, M., McCabe, S. E., Boyd, C. J., & D’Arcy, H. (2005). Drinking like a guy: Frequent binge drinking among undergraduate women. Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 241–267.
Zucker, A. N. (2004). Disavowing social identities: What it means when women say, I’m not a feminist, but.... Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 423–435.
Zucker, A. N., Harrell, Z. A., Miner-Rubino, K., Stewart, A. J., Pomerleau, C. S., & Boyd, C. J. (2001). Smoking in college women: The role of thinness pressures, media exposure, and critical consciousness. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 233–241.
Zucker, A. N., Ostrove, J. M., & Stewart, A. J. (2002). College-educated women’s personality development in adulthood: Perceptions and age differences. Psychology and Aging, 17, 236–244.
Thanks to Ami M. Lynch, Joan M. Ostrove, Eileen L. Zurbriggen, and Lance Landry for assistance on earlier drafts of the manuscript and to Ariel M. Lelchook for library research.
About this article
Cite this article
Zucker, A.N., Landry, L.J. Embodied Discrimination: The Relation of Sexism and Distress to Women’s Drinking and Smoking Behaviors. Sex Roles 56, 193–203 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9163-3
- Binge drinking