We review research that connects depression and depressive symptoms to employment and economic factors for low-income women. Women who have low incomes and are unemployed or underemployed are vulnerable to mental health distress. The strain of balancing work and family life can be exacerbated by poor psychological health or nonsufficient economic resources. Research on the barriers that impede self-sufficiency can lead to policies that improve the economic and psychological health of low-income populations.
The discussion is framed by contrasting evidence for three theoretical perspectives: the social causation, social selection, and interactionist (bidirectional) hypotheses. The only causal relation reported is an effect of increased income on reduced depressive symptoms. Yet strong associations are found among psychological distress, earnings, employment stability, income, and job characteristics. The effects of programs to increase employment and the benefits of (and barriers to) depression treatment are also discussed. A bidirectional or interactionist perspective best conceptualizes the relationship between depression and economic factors. The reported negative effects of both poor mental well-being and low-quality employment suggest the need for stronger policies in the areas of mental health and work supports. We present policy recommendations addressing mental health treatment and outreach, employment placement, and workplace flexibility.