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Both military women and men are exposed to a wide range of stressor events as a part of military training and work assignments.(1) In addition, military women may also experience stressors related to being a woman in a traditionally and predominantly male work environment.(2) The link between perceived work-related stress and impaired functioning on the job is well-documented, demonstrating the classic inverted U-shaped relationship between stress and performance. That is, employees who experience a moderate degree of job stress perform their jobs most efficiently, while those who experience either low or high work-related stress show reduced work efficiency.(3) The potential moderating effects of various physiological, psychological, and social factors on the stress-job performance relationship also have been examined; these moderators may act by contributing to or reducing the resources that individuals can bring to bear in coping with stressors.(4)
Coping is one of several psychosocial factors posited to moderate or mediate the relationship between stress and job functioning. Conceptual models that view coping as a conscious effort to manage distressing problems and emotions have guided much of the stress and coping research over the past two decades.(5) These models generally predict that there are at least three major components to stress-functioning relations: (a) the type of stressor or environmental demand; (b) psychosocial moderators and mediators, such as an individual's coping style; and (c) the resulting psychosocial, physiological, and behavioral outcomes.(6) The study of coping points to two basic modes for understanding individuals' response to stress: approach and avoidance.(7) As conceptualized, approach and avoidance are constructs describing behavioral, cognitive, and emotional activity that is oriented either toward or away from threat. Studies examining the moderating effect of various approach or avoidance coping styles, however, have not consistently shown benefits of specific coping strategies.(8) For example, the literature indicates that avoidance strategies are good predictors of alcohol abuse, while the association between approach coping strategies and alcohol consumption is uncertain.(9)
Health research in the past decade has shown that women consistently report higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms than men, whereas disorders associated with substance abuse are more common in men.(10) For example, rates of depression among women are at least twofold higher than among men.(11) In terms of job functioning, depressive symptoms are related to lower performance at work, independent of interpersonal stress attributed to co-workers and others and job stress related to dissatisfying work.(12) Studies of gender differences in the rate, nature, and timing of life events associated with depression have shown inconsistent results, in part due to differences in the methods used and the results examined. For example, the literature suggests that the relationship between gender and the onset of depression is conditioned more by the type of life events that are salient for men versus women (i.e., women are more likely than men to report events involving their social network) rather than the quantity of events experienced.(13) Stressful life events may play a larger role in the provocation of recurrent episodes of depression for women than for men, but there do not appear to be gender differences in the extent to which interpersonal versus noninterpersonal events or difficulties are associated with depression.(14) Subject to debate is whether women's greater experience of stress is due to gender-related differences in appraisal of stress or coping, women's greater readiness to report stress and illness symptoms, or their greater exposure to stressful life events or chronic stressors relative to men.(15)
There has been little empirical examination of gender differences in the relationship between stress and functional impairment at work; still less attention has been paid to gender differences in the stress-work relationship in the military. As issues of gender and equity in the military are debated in the media and policymakers rethink gender integration, information is needed to provide an empirical basis for informing critical military and public policy decisions on how to structure the training and working relationships of men and women in the armed forces.
This study provides needed data bearing on one aspect of this issue: the relationship between job functioning and stress for military women and men. Analyses draw on data from the 1995 Department of Defense (DoD) Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Military Personnel(16) and examine functioning at work among female and male military personnel and its relationships to work stress and nonwork stress, symptoms of depression, substance abuse, and coping style.
Sampling Design and Data Collection
The sample for the 1995 DoD survey was selected using a stratified, two-stage probability design. The eligible survey population consisted of all active-duty personnel, excluding recruits, service academy students, persons absent without official leave, and persons who had a permanent change of station at the time of data collection. The first stage of sampling involved selection of military installations stratified by branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force) and world region within and outside the continental United States. Within the selected installations, the second stage of sampling involved selection of military personnel stratified by pay grade (junior, middle, and senior enlisted, junior and senior officers) and gender (male, female). The sample was selected to be representative of the active-duty force worldwide. Women and officers were oversampled because of their smaller numbers.
Data were collected between April and August 1995 using self-administered questionnaires completed anonymously by respondents. The questionnaire averaged about 55 minutes to complete. Most respondents (88%) attended group sessions at 59 installations, where questionnaires were administered by civilian data collection teams. Eligible personnel who were not able to attend group sessions were mailed a questionnaire along with an explanation of the purpose and anonymity of the survey, as well as instructions for completing and returning it.
The sampling and data collection procedures resulted in a sample size of 16,193 respondents (13,219 men, 2,974 women; 12,531 enlisted personnel, 3,662 officers) for an overall response rate among eligible survey participants of 70 percent. However, the response rate varied significantly with respect to gender (females higher than males), rank, (officers higher than enlisted), and service (Air Force higher than other branches). As a result, the respondent distribution was composed of too many females, officers, and members of the Air Force when compared to the original sample distribution. These differential response-rate patterns combined with differential answer patterns to the questionnaire represent a potential for nonresponse bias. To avoid this, the data for each survey were weighted to represent the population of eligible active-duty personnel, and adjustments were made for the potential biasing effects of differential nonresponse.
Poststratification methods were used to develop the nonresponse adjustment factors. Updated counts of military personnel were obtained and observed eligibility rates were applied to these new personnel counts …