Department of Sociology

Tetyana Pudrovska - "Job Authority and Breast Cancer"

Fri, November 22, 2013 | CLA 1.302E

2:00 PM

Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the National Longitudinal Surveys of Mature Women and Young Women, and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, I integrate the fundamental cause theory, the intersectionality perspective, and a biosocial stress perspective to explore cumulative long-term effects of women’s job authority on breast cancer incidence. Findings from parametric hazard models, counterfactual models, and Monte Carlo simulations indicate that women with the authority to hire, fire, and influence others’ pay had a significantly higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis over the long term compared to housewives and employed women with no job authority. The effect of job authority was stronger among black than white women and, contrary to expectations, has intensified in younger cohorts compared to older cohorts. Because job authority conferred the highest risk of breast cancer for women who also spent more hours dealing with people at work, I suggest that the assertion of job authority by women involves stressful interpersonal experiences, such as social isolation and negative social interactions, that may increase the risk of breast cancer via prolonged dysregulation of the glucocorticoid system and exposure of breast tissue to the adverse effects of chronically elevated cortisol.
This study emphasizes that macro- and meso-processes of gender stratification create a workplace environment in which exercising job authority exposes women to chronic interpersonal stressors that undermine the health benefits of higher-status occupations. Although more women are entering higher-status occupations than in the past, women’s progress in the workplace has slowed recently. Even in the new economy, organizations are still gendered and women continue to lag behind men with respect to authority. Given women’s disadvantage in access to power, researchers suggest that policies promoting gender equality in the workplace, such as enhancing women’s control, can reduce gender differences in health. Although undoubtedly an important direction, my findings underscore that catching up with men in terms of structural aspects of workplace authority is not sufficient because the cultural meaning of exercising job authority is different for men and women. Women, especially minority women, are still disadvantaged in higher-status workplace scenarios because the leadership role is incongruent with the prevailing gender and race stereotypes. More attention is needed to the study of potential health risks among women in authority positions who are still overcoming resistance and enduring stereotypes as a result of gender and race stratification. Policies and workplace interventions should be aimed at minimizing health costs and increasing the non-pecuniary rewards of job authority among women.

Tetyana Pudrovska received her PhD in Sociology in 2008 from UW-Madison. She is currently an assistant professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University. Her overarching research area is biosocial demography of health and aging at the intersection of gender and race within the context of cultural and historical changes reflected in the experiences of birth cohorts. She attempts to understand why some people live long and healthy lives whereas other people die prematurely from causes that could have been prevented. She takes a life-course intersectionality approach to explore how the interplay of socioeconomic status, gender, and race/ethnicity shapes physical health, mental health, and mortality from early life to old age. She analyzes life-course processes that convey the effect of early-life exposures on late-life health, including socioeconomic attainment, family statuses, health behaviors, and biomarkers (especially inflammatory and glucoregulatory markers).

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  • Department of Sociology

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