Journal of Rural Community Psychology               Volume E9   Number 1   Spring   2006




The Influence of Employment Status on Depressive Symptomatology

of U. S.-born Mexican American Women



Linda G. Castillo, Debra J. Archuleta & Alisa Van Landingham

Department of Educational Psychology

Texas A&M University





Depression is the leading disorder among mental health disabilities worldwide. Past research has indicated that women experience higher prevalence rates of depression than men, and Mexican Americans experience higher rates of depression than White Americans. This study examines the factors associated with depressive symptomatology in 80 U.S.-born Mexican American women in a rural Texas town. It is hypothesized that employment status will account for a significant amount of the variance in self-reported depressive symptoms beyond that accounted for by age, income, level of education, and partner status. The results indicate that employment status accounts for a significant amount of the self-reported depressive symptoms and also supports previous findings that education level has a significant impact on depressive symptoms.





Mood disorders rank among the top 10 causes of worldwide disabilities with depression ranking first (Murray & Lopez, 1996). Several factors are strongly associated with depressive symptomatology. A growing body of research suggests a greater prevalence of depression among women than men in the United States (Kessler, 2000; Simonds, 2001). Several studies have also found that that depression is higher in persons who have lower levels of education, unemployed, and are separated, divorced, or widowed (Blazer, Kessler, McGonagle, & Swartz, 1994; Lehtinen & Joukamaa, 1994). Depression has also been found to be higher in Latinos that in any other ethnic group in the U. S. (Sáez-Santiago & Bernal, 2003). Given that Latinos are the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the United States, with Mexican Americans comprise nearly two-thirds of Latinos (Guzman, 2001), and prevalence rates of depression are higher for women, it is important to examine the factors associated with depressive symptomatology in Mexican American women.


There are a limited amount of studies that have examined the prevalence rates of depression in the Mexican American community. The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (ECA) is one of only two large scale studies conducted to identify the rates of psychiatric disorders among adults in the United States. Studies using ECA data have found higher levels of depression for U.S.-born Mexican Americans than for immigrant Mexican Americans and White Americans (Golding & Lipton, 1990; Vernon & Roberts, 1982; Vega, Warheit, Buhl-Auth, & Meinhardt, 1984). When gender differences for depressive symptoms were examined, studies have found that Mexican American women reported higher levels of depression than Mexican American men (Cuéllar & Roberts, 1997). After controlling for age, income, education, and acculturation, Mexican American females continue to have significantly higher depressive symptomatology than their male counterparts (Golding & Karno, 1988; Roberts & Roberts, 1982). Studies from the ECA as well as the National Comorbidity Study (NCS) have found that U.S.-born Mexican Americans had higher rates of depressive symptoms than those born in Mexico (Burnam, Hugh, Karno, Escobar, & Telles, 1987; Kessler et al., 1994). It is clear in the literature that U. S.-born Mexican American females have high levels of depressive symptomatology. The literature suggests several factors that may contribute to U. S.-born Mexican American women’s increased risk of depressive symptomatology.


Employment status has been found to be related to depressive symptoms (Catalano, Alderete, Vega, Kolody, Aguilar-Gaxiola, 2000; Roberts & Roberts, 1982). It is well documented that unemployment, or job loss, has negative effects on a person’s mental health, including increased rates of depressive symptomatology (Catalano et al., 2000; Dew, Bromet & Penkower, 1992; Dooley, Prause & Ham-Rowbottom, 2000; Murphy, & Athanasou, 1999). Those who are underemployed or unemployed have more depressive symptoms than those who are adequately employed (Dooley, 2003; Dooley et al., 2000). In the few studies that focused on employment status rather than change in employment status, the results consistently show that employed participants were less depressed than unemployed subjects (Makri-Botsari & Marki, 2003). In a study of women, higher levels of workforce participation were predictive of decreased depressive symptoms (Raver, 2003).


Mexican Americans who are unemployed are more likely to report depressive symptoms than their employed counterparts (Catalano et al., 2000). Furthermore, studies have shown that unemployed Mexican American women report more symptoms of depression than their employed counterparts (Robert & Roberts, 1982). When the presence of a partner is considered, interesting results emerge. With one group of participants, Roberts and Roberts (1982) found that for partnered Mexican American women work was shown to have no effect on depressive symptomatology. However, for unpartnered Mexican American women, employment outside the home was related to less depressive symptoms. Goudy and Lorenz (1989) also found that employment status was not related to depressive symptoms for partnered Mexican American women. However, Roberts and Roberts (1982) found that with a second group of participants employment was related to less depressive symptoms for both partnered and unpartnered Mexican American women. Ross (1983) also found that employment was related to less distress for partnered Mexican American women. A possible explanation for the mixed findings is that the studies did not control for nativity of the participants. Given that previous research indicates differences in depressive symptomatology between U.S.-born and immigrant Mexican Americans, our study seeks to extend previous research by examining the predictive ability of employment status of U.S.-born Mexican American women.


Partner status also has a significant impact on mental health for Mexican American women (Wagner, 1993). Individuals with disrupted marriages or who are unpartnered are often believed to be at greater risk of depressive symptoms than those who are partnered (Guarnaccia, Angel, & Worobey, 1991; Roberts & Roberts, 1982). Guarnaccia et al., (1991) examined the effects of marital status on levels of depressive affect in the Latino population. They found that unmarried women reported higher levels of depressive symptomatology than married women. Roberts and Roberts (1982) found similar results. Marital status had a significant effect on depressive symptomatology. More specifically, unpartnered participants who were divorced or separated reported higher depressive symptomatology than married and “single, never married” participants. Results from both studies emphasize the necessity of examining the presence of a partner as a potential predictor from depressive symptomatology.


Level of one’s education often influences access to employment and socioeconomic status. As Mexican Americans are less educated than White Americans, they are more likely to be unemployed or work in lower paying jobs such as service workers (Ramirez & de al Cruz, 2002). This is reflected in income statistics where 24% of Mexican Americans were living in poverty in 1999 (Therrien & Rameriz, 2000). The literature frequently cites income and education as associated with depressive symptoms (Saenz, Goudy, & Lorenz, 1989; Vega et al., 1984; Vega, Kolody, & Valle, 1986). Mexican American women with low incomes and education have the highest amount of depressive symptomatology (Saenz et al., 1989; Vega, Kolody, & Valle, 1986).


In light of the current literature, U. S.-born Mexican American women often experience factors that have been associated with depressive symptoms. However, there are few studies that examine the predictors of depressive symptomatology in U.S.-born Mexican American women. This study extends previous studies by examining the predictive ability of employment status on depression in low-income U. S.-born Mexican American women. The hypothesis for this study is that employment status will account for a significant amount of the variance in self-reported depressive symptoms above and beyond that accounted for by age, income, level of education, and partner status.







Data for this study was based on a survey of two Head Start Family Service Centers (FSC) located in small rural Texas towns. This study examined a total sample of 80 U. S.-born Mexican American women. A descriptive analysis of the participants’ partner status indicated that 54% were partnered (i.e., married, common law marriage, or in a committed relationship) and 46% were unpartnered (not currently in a relationship). The participants’ ages ranged between 19 and 46 (M = 27.48, SD = 5.68).


The highest level of education completed ranged between second grade and three years of college with completion of high school being the most frequently reported grade level. Thirty percent of the participants received a high school diploma and 13.3% received a GED. A majority (88.3%) of the participants’ average household income was less than $15,000. Many of the participants (71.7%) reported being employed in the last year




An 11-item self-report questionnaire was utilized to obtain background characteristics of the participants. Items in this questionnaire requested: (a) personal characteristics including age, gender, income, and employment status; and (b) educational information such as highest grade completed.


The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) was utilized to determine the presence of depressive symptomatology. The CES-D is a 20 item self-report checklist which contains common affective and somatic depressive symptomatology. Scores can range from zero to 60 with a higher score indicative of depressive symptomatology (Radloff, 1977). Scores above 16 are considered an indicator of depressive symptoms (Radloff, 1977). The CES-D has demonstrated good construct validity with Mexican Americans (Roberts, 1980). Based on a Mexican American community sample, the CES-D yields a test-retest reliability of .59 over an eight week period (Radloff, 1977). Internal consistency in previous studies ranged from .89 for the English version of the measure to .91 for the Spanish version (Roberts, 1980). For this study, the coefficient alpha was .86.




Parents were recruited at the Head Start FSC during school enrollment. Participants were given a consent form, a letter describing the study, and the name and number of the primary investigator. Participants were informed that an interviewer would call by phone or in person to set an appointment for the interview.


Interested participants were given the option of holding the interview at their home or the Head Start FSC. They were also given the option of having the interviews conducted in either English or Spanish. The research questions were provided orally and recorded by the interviewer. The interview took approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete. All participants were reimbursed for their time.





Before the main analyses were conducted, casewise diagnostics were performed. One case was identified as an outlier and was removed from additional analysis. The remaining 79 cases were checked for homoscedasticity, normality, linearity, outliers, and multicolinearity. To evaluate the homoscedasticity, linearity, and normality assumptions, studentized residuals were plotted against the values of the predicted dependent variables (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996; Venter & Maxwell, 2000). No violation of these assumptions was detected. With the use of p = .001 criterion for Mahalanbois distance, no multivariate outliers were detected (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Finally, to assess multicolinearity, tolerance values were calculated. Tolerance values ranged from .89 to .97 thus multicolinearity was not a problem for this data set.


Participants’ mean scores on the CES-D (M = 17.01, SD = 9.24) indicated a presence of depressive symptomatology. Correlations among the predictor variables and depressive symptomatology were examined. These relationships are depicted in Table 1. Level of education (r = -.32, p < .01) was significantly related to depression. Higher reported depressive symptoms were associated with a lower level of education. As expected, higher levels of education was related to higher reported income (r = .28, p < .05).


A hierarchical regression analysis was employed to determine the relative effect of the predictor variables on depression. Results are reported in Table 2. Predictor variables were grouped into four broad domains and entered in the following order: (a) age, level of education, and income; (b) partner status; and (d) employment status. Employment status was dichotomized coded (1 = employed, 2 = unemployed). Partner status was also dichotomized (0 = unpartnered, 1 = partnered).


A total of 23% of the variance in depression was accounted for by all predictor variables [F (5, 73) = 4.23, p = .002]. The first block, age, level of education, and income, accounted for 16% of the variance in reported depressive symptomatology with age and level of education contributing the only statistically significant betas (see Table 2). In the second block entered, partner status did not account for variance in depressive symptomatology beyond that accounted for by the first block. After controlling for demographic and partner status variables, employment status accounted for a statistically significant proportion of the variance in reported depression, [∆R2 = .06, ∆F (1, 73) = 5.73, p = .02].


Power Analysis


Given the small sample size, a post hoc power analysis was conducted using the G Power analysis program (Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996). Alpha was set at .05. Given the number of participants, predictor variables, and effect size, the study has a power of .97.





This study supports and extends previous studies on the influence of employment status in U.S.-born Mexican American women and depressive symptomatology. The results of this study support the hypothesis that employment status accounts for a significant amount of the self-reported depressive symptoms above and beyond that accounted for by partner status, age, income, and level of education. Employed Mexican American women in this study reported lower levels of depression than their unemployed peers. This finding is consistent with findings from the research on Mexican American women (Catalano, et al., 2000).


This study also supports previous findings that education level has a significant impact on the report of depressive symptoms. Even after partner and employment status were entered into the regression equation, level of education continued to significantly predict depressive symptoms with better educated Mexican American women reporting lower levels of depressive symptomatology. This is consistent with previous studies that found level of education as an important variable that influences depression (Saenz et al., 1989; Vega et al., 1986).


It is interesting to note that partner status was not a significant predictor of depressive symptoms for participants in this study. This contradicts previous studies where partnered women expressed lower levels of depression than unpartnered women (Guarnaccia, et al., 1991; Roberts & Roberts, 1982). A possible explanation of this finding is that many of the participants indicated that family members lived in the same household or in close proximity, such as next door or within the block. This close proximity made it possible to easily access a social support network. The literature suggests that family social support can operate as a buffer to depression for Mexican American women (Vega et al., 1986). Another explanation for this finding is that previous studies examined between group differences in levels of depression. For example, Roberts and Roberts (1982) examined depression score differences between married, divorced, never married, and widowed Mexican American participants. Although he found significant differences in depression scores, this finding did not address the predictive ability of partner status. Given the mixed findings on the impact of partner status on depression for Mexican American women and that this is the first study to examine its predictive ability, future research is needed.


There are a number of limitations that may restrict generalizability of this study. First, the self-report instruments were completed in face-to-face interviews with student researchers. Although issues of confidentiality were explained, participants may have been hesitant or may not have trusted the researcher when providing answers. Since the CES-D was answered orally, participants may have been hesitant in answering questions from the CES-D such as "I felt depressed," due to fear of being pathologized by the interviewers. Another limitation is that the study was only conducted with low-income U. S.-born Mexican American women. Generalization of the study’s findings to middle income Mexican American women or Mexican female immigrants may be limited. A final limitation to this study is that level of acculturation was not assessed in this study. The findings of this study may differ from Mexican immigrant women who are less acculturated. Because acculturation is related to many mental health issues such as distress and depression (Castillo, Conoley, & Hill, 2004; Vega et al., 1998), acculturation should be considered in future studies.


Depression is one of the top mental health problems affecting people across a wide range of cultures. In order to implement preventive services, it is critical to understand the associated risk factors of each cultural group (Sáez-Santiago & Bernal, 2003). This study found that for U.S.-born Mexican American women employment status is a significant predictor associated with depressive symptomatology. Employment is one of the main structures that help individuals to feel positive, develop financial independence, and establish hope for the future; therefore, being unemployed has the potential to effect one’s perceived self-worth. Given that employment status was found to be an important predictor of depressive symptoms for Mexican American women in this study, it is essential to understand how employment status is related to depression. For example, future studies can determine the psychological factors that are related to employment status, such as self-worth and self-efficacy, and how this is related to depression in Mexican American women. Future research can also consider how differences in social class impact the meaning of employment (e.g., employment as a means to get income vs. as part of one’s identity). By understanding the relationship of employment status to depression for Mexican American women, researchers can better inform policy makers about preventive measures for this population.





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