Failure to match parents’ success has negative impact on men’s mental health
Men experience levels of psychological distress equivalent to going through a divorce if they fail to match or surpass the levels of educational achievement of their parents, according to a new study.
The findings, presented in research by the University of Oxford, suggest that these negative consequences are unique to men, with any impact of not matching parental attainment being largely absent in women. By contrast, there is also a positive impact on mental health associated with men exceeding their parents’ achievements.
The research compares psychological states with educational achievement for than 50,000 individuals across 28 countries, mainly in Europe. It finds that men in the bottom third of educational attainment whose parents are in the top third are more than twice as likely to be in top 10% of most psychologically distressed individuals.
By contrast, men in the top third of achievement whose parents are in the bottom are 50% less likely to be psychologically distressed than those who are at the same level as their parents.
The report highlights that such a gap in well-being is comparable to the gap between those who are divorced and those who are not, or between those in an ethnic minority group with the ethnic majority.
Discussing the finding that such a gap was observed in men but not women, Alexi Gugushvili, a co-author of the report, said: “For men, parents’ educational achievement and intergenerational mobility retain an important influence on their psychological health after accounting for individuals’ social class and other explanations of distress, but no effect is observed for women’s distress.”
“The reason for this could be that men are more likely than women to attribute success and failure by pointing to their own merits, abilities and effort, rather than factors they have no control over.”
Writing for IZA World of Labor, Paolo Verme notes that it is a well-established thesis across the social sciences that people derive a sense of their own deprivation from comparing themselves with others. He suggests that “this fact cannot be ignored in economics research because it helps to explain why different groups of people experience objective deprivations differently.”
He concludes that: “Relative deprivation is therefore an important concept that can help the advancement of behavioral economics [and] help policymakers to develop labor market policies that are cognizant of people’s behavioral and cultural aspects.”
Read more IZA World of Labor articles about health and well-being.