Cancer and the Corner Office: The Fading Correlation Between Breast Cancer and Women’s Workplace Authority
Both women’s labor force participation and breast cancer incidence have increased substantially since the 1970s. That seems like a coincidence, but for women in positions of authority, recent research by Tetyana Pudrovska links the two.
Pudrovska shows that women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and had the authority to influence pay and hire and fire employees (“job authority”) in 1975 had a 70% higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis by 2011 than those without such authority (controlling for a variety of known biological and social breast cancer risk factors). This greatly increased risk was specific and increased among women with job authority who spent a large portion of their time at work dealing with people. Some of this increased risk may be due to the particularly stressful environment women faced in the 1970s labor force, but Pudrovska observes similarly increased breast cancer risk (through 2011) for women who held such job authority in 1993.
Pudrovska argues that the established health benefits of having a job can be counteracted by unfavorable working conditions—such as the significant stress of being a woman in a position of authority when that violates social norms. To the extent that a woman in charge is less countercultural today than in the ‘70s, job authority may pose a lower health risk to today’s women.