Women in leadership positions seem to sleep better when they live in a country with greater gender equality. The same does not apply to male managers who sleep better in countries with higher GDP.
Leah Ruppanner and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne used data from the 2012 European Social Survey to study the sleep of 18,116 people aged 25 to 64 from 29 European countries. Although it is an annual survey that is distributed across Europe every year, 2012 was the last year respondents were asked about their sleep patterns.
The survey asked people whether they had had restless sleep in the past week, what country they live in and what job they do. Ruppanner and her team then combined these answers with data on the gender gap in the individual countries, which were quantified by the United Nations Gender Development Index.
“The United Nations quantifies how women find themselves in a whole range of interventions within a country in terms of access to education, health care and even employment opportunities,” says Ruppanner.
The team found that both men and women in managerial positions were generally more likely to report restless sleep than those in less managerial positions. However, women managers who live in countries with a higher index of gender development reported better sleep than women with similar jobs in less equal countries.
“The Nordic countries have done very well here because they are pursuing a whole range of strategies to empower women and close the gender gap,” says Ruppanner.
However, the same correlation did not apply to men in leadership positions. “Men’s sleep seems to be tied to economic productivity – male managers sleep better when GDP is higher,” says Ruppanner. “But everyone, men and women, sleep better in countries with more equality.”
The study only identifies a correlation between gender equality and sleep, rather than a causal link, and there can be many complex problems that demonstrate why female managers in countries with a larger gender gap reported poorer sleep. “Is there gender discrimination of coworkers that makes it harder to do a good job or things that create psychological baggage that follows them home?” says Sarah Burgard of the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study.
“I don’t think we can create plausible stories about the correlations that emerge from a country’s gender index and GDP,” says Marco Hafner of RAND Europe in Cambridge, UK. “For example, a country with higher gender equality like Sweden or Denmark may also have a very good social security system, which in turn could have a very positive effect on sleep.”