The service industry makes up a large portion of the American workforce. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of Americans work in private service-providing positions. Of course, not all service jobs are created equal. “Services” can include anything from accounting, teaching and nursing to working in a trade or in retail, waitressing or tourism.
And while the job opportunities are a good thing, a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed a darker side of the industry. Specifically, the research suggests that individuals who work in the service sector — especially those who rely on tips — have a greater risk of developing depression, sleep problems and other stress-related problems.
What’s more, women in the tipped service industry are more likely to report depressive symptoms and/or a depression diagnosis than men.
The study included 2,815 women and 2,586 men, and while the reasoning behind the gender bias is unclear, researchers do have a few theories. Lead author Sarah Andrea, a Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology at the Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health, believes customer hostility and/or the sexualization of women in public may be to blame.
Her coauthor, Dr. Janne Boone-Heinonen, an associate professor of epidemiology in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, agrees. “While the idea that ‘the customer is always right’ may be a valid business plan, our study results indicate that mentality may negatively impact employee health, especially in women,” she notes.
As for the service sector problem in general, Andrea said that she believes instability is to blame.
“The higher prevalence of mental health problems may be linked to the precarious nature of service work, including lower and unpredictable wages, insufficient benefits and a lack of control over work hours and assigned shifts,” she said in a statement.
That said, in order to better understand the factors that contribute to differences in mental health among service workers — and among men and women — additional research will be necessary. And regardless of the industry you work in, remember: If you are feeling stressed, depressed or overwhelmed, there is help. There is hope. And you are not alone.
If you’re looking for resources for helping a friend or loved one or trying to get information about treatment for yourself, you can turn to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling them at 1-800-273-8255.