Lilly et al (2009) assert that among civilians in general, women tend to have more PTSD than men (see Tolin & Foa, 2006), but that military populations tend not to have this gender difference (see Brewin et al, 2000). To examine this pattern, Lilly et al compared posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms between female police officers and women in the civilian population. The police officer group had greater rates of exposure to violence, which is usually a strong risk factor for PTSD, but lower rates of PTSD symptoms. The authors suggest that the low emotionality (masculine) gender role encouraged for women in the police and military may have a protective effect in terms of PTSD.
Previous posts on Difference Blog have not found as clear a civilian/military divide for gender differences in PTSD. Studies of civilians post-9/11 were inconsistent in finding more PTSD among women (2006-09-11). Two posts examining military sexual trauma found higher rates of PTSD among women in the military, but this did not always control for higher rates of sexual assault against women (2006-11-10 & 2008-11-11). Before the age where career enters into it, girls 7-18 were more likely to develop PTSD following a car crash than boys of the same age (2007-01-08).
In this case, I am more convinced by Lilly et al's literature review than by my own: I can't see any obvious problems with the meta-analyses they cite (which is why I linked them, above), although I didn't check the individual studies. What this really drives home to me is how the scattershot approach I take to Difference Blog topics can paint a really odd picture of the state-of-knowledge in a particular field. Given the studies I've posted about, I would not have picked up on a pattern based on military service.
That being said, I'm not sure of the chicken-and-egg situation between emotionality and career. It seems to me that someone who tended to have strong peritraumatic distress would not tend to pursue a career in law enforcement or the military -- regardless of their gender. The hypothesized effect of the male-dominated field on the female officers does not seem obvious to me.
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