Resources for students, parents, and educators

Category: Sociology


By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
~ 6 min read

What is Depression?

Clinical depression goes by many names, such as “the blues,” biological or clinical depression, and a major depressive episode. But all of these names refer to the same thing: feeling sad and depressed for weeks or months on end — not just a passing blue mood of a day or two. This feeling is most often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, a lack of energy (or feeling “weighed down”), and taking little or no pleasure in things that once gave a person joy in the past.

Depressed? Take the Quiz NowDepression symptoms take many forms, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. A person who’s suffering from this disorder may not seem sad to others. They may instead complain about how they just “can’t get moving,” or are feeling completely unmotivated to do just about anything. Even simple things — like getting dressed in the morning or eating at mealtime — become large obstacles in daily life. People around them, such as their friends and family, notice the change too. Often they want to help, but just don’t know how.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, risk factors for depression can include a family history of mood disorders, major life changes, trauma, other physical diseases (such as cancer), and even certain medications. But today, the causes of depression still remain largely unknown.

Depression can appear differently in children than in adults. In children, it can look more like anxiety or anxious behavior.

What’s Depression Feel Like?

“[If there was] certainty that an acute episode [of depression] will last only a week, a month, even a year, it would change everything. It would still be a ghastly ordeal, but the worst thing about it — the incessant yearning for death, the compulsion toward suicide — would drop away. But no, a limited depression, a depression with hope, is a contradiction. … [T]he conviction that it will never end except in death — that is the definition of a severe depression.”

~ George Scialabba

Symptoms of Depression

Clinical depression is different from normal sadness — like when you lose a loved one, experience a relationship breakup, or get laid off from work — as it usually consumes a person in their day-to-day living. It doesn’t stop after just a day or two — it will continue for weeks on end, interfering with the person’s work or school, their relationships with others, and their ability to just enjoy life and have fun. Some people feel as if a huge hole of emptiness has opened inside when experiencing the hopelessness associated with this condition. In any given year, 7 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition; women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed than men (American Psychiatric Association).

The symptoms of depression include the majority of the following signs, experienced nearly every day over the course of two or more weeks:

  • a persistent feeling of loneliness or sadness
  • lack of energy
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • difficulties with sleeping (too much or too little)
  • difficulties with eating (too much or too little)
  • difficulties with concentration or attention
  • total loss of interest in enjoyable activities or socializing
  • feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • and/or thoughts of death or suicide.

Most people who are feeling depressed don’t experience every symptom, and the presentation of symptoms varies in degree and intensity from person to person.

Learn more: What are the different types of depression?

Causes & Diagnosis

Depression doesn’t discriminate who it affects by age, gender, race, career, relationship status, or whether a person is rich or poor. It can affect anyone at any point in their life, including children and adolescents (although in teens and children, it can sometimes be seen more as irritability than a sad mood).

Like most mental disorders, researchers still don’t know what exactly causes this condition. But a combination of factors is likely to blame, including: genetics, neurobiological makeup, gut bacteria, family history, personality and psychological factors, environment, and social factors in growing up.

A mental health specialist is the type of professional best equipped to make a reliable diagnosis for this condition. These kinds of professionals include psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers. While a general practitioner or family doctor may be able to make an initial diagnosis, further followup and treatment should be done by a specialist for the best treatment results.

Depression Treatment

Can depression actually be successfully treated? The short answer is yes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and countless research studies over the past six decades, clinical depression is readily treated with short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy and modern antidepressant medications. For most people, a combination of the two works best and is usually what is recommended. Psychotherapy approaches scientifically proven to work with depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy (Gelenberg et al., 2010). Psychotherapy is one of the most effective treatments for all types of depression and has very few side effects (and is a covered treatment by all insurers).

For mild depression, many people start with self-help strategies and emotional support. There are some common herbal treatments that research has also shown to be effective, including St. John’s wort and kava (Sarris, 2007). The positive effects of exercise and diet should not be under-estimated in helping mild to moderate depression symptoms as well. Increased, regular exercise is recommended as a component of treatment for all severity levels of depression.

When psychotherapy and antidepressants don’t work, clinicians may turn to other treatment options. Usually the first is to try and adjunct medication to the existing antidepressant medication. In more serious or treatment-resistant cases, additional treatment options may be tried (like ECT or rTMS). Ketamine infusion treatments also appear to be effective, but are generally not covered by insurance and the long-term risks are unknown.

No matter how hopeless things may feel today, people can get better with treatment — and most do. The key to successful treatment is usually dependent upon the person recognizing there’s a problem, seeking out treatment for it, and then following the treatment plan agreed to. This can be far more challenging for someone who’s depressed than it sounds, and patience is a core necessity when starting treatment.

You can learn more about the benefits of psychotherapy, medications, and whether you should consider psychotherapy, medication or both in our in-depth depression treatment guide.

Living With & Managing Depression

When faced with the emptiness and loneliness of this condition, many people living with it find it a daily struggle just to wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Everyday tasks most of us take for granted — like showering, eating, or going to work or school — seem insurmountable obstacles to a person living with depression.

The key to living with depression is ensuring you’re receiving adequate treatment for it (usually most people benefit from both psychotherapy and medication), and that you are an active participant in your treatment plan on a daily basis. This requires a lot of effort and hard work for most people, but it can be done. Establishing new, healthier routines are important in many people’s management of this condition. Getting regular emotional support — for instance, through an online support group — can also be extremely beneficial.

Helping Someone with Depression

When we see a friend or family member in distress, most of us want to reach out and offer a hand. But when it comes to this kind of mental illness, all too often we remain silent, fearful of the stigma associated with the diagnosis. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and no reason not to offer to help out someone who is going through the challenges of living with this disorder.

You can learn a lot on ways to be helpful by reviewing the following articles, specifically written with friends and family members in mind:

Getting Help

Recovery from a depressive episode takes time as well as a desire and willingness for change. You can start by talking to someone — anyone — about your feelings, and finding some immediate emotional support through the sharing. Many people start their journey of recovery off by going to see their family physician for an initial diagnosis. Such a professional can also help connect you with referrals or encouragement to continue your treatment with a mental health specialist.

The first step is yours to take. Be brave and know that in taking it, you’re starting down the road to recovery from this terrible disorder.

More Resources & Stories: Depression on OC87 Recovery Diaries and Depression on The Mighty


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F. & Emery, G. (1987). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: Guilford.
  3. Burns, D.D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: Plume.
  4. Gelenberg, A.J. et al. (2010). Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder. American Psychiatric Association.
  5. Gotlib, I.H. & Hammen, C.L. (2015). Handbook of Depression: Third Edition. New York: Guilford.
  6. National Institute of Mental Health. (2018). Depression. Retrieved from on November 18, 2018.
  7. Muneer, A. (2018). Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder: Differentiating Features and Contemporary Treatment Approaches. In Understanding depression. New York: Springer.
  8. Sarris, J. (2007). Herbal medicines in the treatment of psychiatric disorders: a systematic review. Phytotherapy Research. J Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 2, 49-55.

The Gender Wage Gap: Earnings Differences by Race and Ethnicity


The gender wage gap in weekly earnings for full-time workers in the United States did not improve between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 81.8 percent, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points since 2016, when the ratio was 81.9 percent, leaving a wage gap of 18.2 percentage points, nearly the same as the 18.1 percentage points in 2016. Women’s median weekly earnings for full-time work were $770 in 2017 compared with $941 for men. Adjusting for inflation, women’s and men’s earnings increased by the same amount, 0.7 percent, since 2016.1

Another measure of the wage gap, the ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers, was 80.5 percent in 2016 (data for 2017 are not yet available). An earnings ratio of 80.5 percent means that the gender wage gap for full-time, year-round workers is 19.5 percent.

The gender earnings ratio for full-time, year-round workers, which includes self-employed workers, tends to be slightly lower than the ratio for weekly earnings (which excludes the self-employed and earnings from annual bonuses, and includes full-time workers who work only part of the year). Both earnings ratios are for full-time workers only; if part-time workers were included, the ratios of women’s to men’s earnings would be even lower, as women are more likely than men to work reduced schedules, often in order to manage childrearing and other caregiving work.

Figure 1: The Gender Earnings Ratio, 1955-2017, Full-Time Workers

Notes: See Table 2

Since 1980, when weekly earnings data were first collected, the weekly gender earnings ratio has risen from just 64.2 percent to 81.8 percent now. Most of the progress towards gender equality took place in the 1980s and 1990s. In the past ten years (2008 to 2017), the weekly gender wage gap narrowed by just 2.0 percentage points, compared with 3.9 percentage points in the previous ten years (1998 to 2007), and with 4.4 percentage points in the ten years prior to that (1988 to 1997). Progress in closing the gender earnings gap based on median annual earnings has also slowed considerably. If the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio were to continue at the same rate as it has since 1985, it would take until 2059 for women and men to reach earnings parity.2

Earnings Differences by Gender, Race and Ethnicity

Women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than White men, as illustrated by Table 1. Hispanic workers have lower median weekly earnings than White, Black, and Asian workers. Hispanic women’s median weekly earnings in 2017 were $603 per week of full-time work, only 62.2 percent of White men’s median weekly earnings, but 87.4 percent of the median weekly earnings of Hispanic men (because Hispanic men also have low earnings). The median weekly earnings of Black women were $657, only 67.7 percent of White men’s earnings, but 92.5 percent of Black men’s median weekly earnings (Table 1). Primarily because of higher rates of educational attainment for both genders, Asian workers have higher median weekly earnings than White, Black or Hispanic workers (the highest of any group shown in Table 1). Asian women’s earnings are 93.0 percent of White men’s earnings, but only 74.8 percent of Asian men’s earnings. White women earn 81.9 percent of what White men earn, very close to the ratio for all women to all men, because White workers remain the largest group in the labor force.

Women and men of the largest racial and ethnic groups, besides Asian women and men, saw increases in median weekly earnings between 2016 and 2017.3 White women’s real earnings increased by 1.6 percent, Hispanic women’s by 0.8 percent, and Black women’s by 0.4 percent. Asian women saw a decrease in median weekly earnings of 2.0 percent. Asian, Hispanic, and White men’s earnings increased (by 2.7 percent, 1.9 percent, and 0.9 percent, respectively), while Black men’s earnigns fell by 3.2 percent. Earnings for a full-time week of work leave Hispanic women well below, and Hispanic men and Black women not much above, the qualifying income threshold for receipt of food stamps of $615 per week for a family of four.4

Table 1: Median Weekly Earnings and Gender Earnings Ratio for Full-Time Workers, 16 Years and Older by Race/Ethnic Background, 2016 and 2017

Notes: Hispanic workers may be of any race. White, Black, and Asian workers include Hispanics. Annual average of median weekly earnings. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by selected characteristics, Annual Averages <> (retrieved March 2018).

Women’s lower earnings are due to a number of factors, including lower earnings in occupations done mainly by women; lack of paid family leave and subsidized child care; and discrimination in compensation, recruitment, and hiring.5 Measures to improve the quality of jobs held mainly by women, tackle occupational segregation, enforce equal pay and employment opportunities, and improve work-family benefits for all workers, will help the incomes of women and their families grow and strengthen the economy.6

Table 2: The Gender Wage Ratio and Real Earnings, 1955-2017, Full-Time Workers

Notes for Figure 1 and Table 2: Annual earnings data include self-employed workers; weekly data are for wage and salary workers only and are not restricted to full-year workers. Annual earnings are for people 15 years old and older beginning in 1980 and people 14 years old and older for previous years. Before 1989, annual earnings are for civilian workers only. Weekly earnings are for full-time workers aged 16 and older. The annual average of weekly median earnings is usually released in February by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Annual median earnings data are typically released in late summer or early fall by the U.S. Census Bureau. Both data series are derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Adjustments for data from earlier years to 2017 dollars are computed on the basis of the Consumer Price Index Research Series (CPI-U) published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics <> (accessed March 2018). The 2014 CPS ASEC, the portion of the CPS that is used to generate the annual earnings figures, included redesigned income questions. Estimates presented for 2013 are based on the portion of the 2014 CPS ASEC sample which received the income questions consistent with the 2014 CPS ASEC; see DeNavas-Walt and Proctor (2015) for an explanation of methodology. The newer income questions in the 2014 CPS ASEC measure a slightly wider gender gap, a female-to-male earnings ratio of 77.6 percent, compared to the previous questions (78.3 percent); therefore, the estimates presented for 2013 here differ from those shown in IWPR #C423 and IWPR #C430. Earnings data for 1981-1984 are available upon request.

Sources for Figure 1 and Tables 1 and 2: Annual data: 1955: Francine D. Blau and Marianne A. Ferber, The Economics of Women, Men, and Work, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992); U.S. Census Bureau, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016 Table A-4 < > (accessed March 2018) Weekly data: 1980-2016: from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by selected characteristics, Annual Averages <> (retrieved March 2018). 


  1. 2016 earnings were converted into 2017 dollars using the Consumer Price Index Series (CPI-U) , U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics <> (accessed March 2018).
  2. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. November 2017. “Women’s Median Earnings as a Percent of Men’s, 1985-2016 (Full-time, Year-Round Workers) with Projection for Pay Equity, by Race/Ethnicity.” IWPR Quick Figures #Q066 <> (accessed March 2018).
  3. According to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, changes in earnings between 2016 and 2017 were statistically significant for White women and men; for other groups, with smaller survey sample sizes, 2017 earnings were within the margin of error compared to 2016 data.
  4. To qualify for food stamps, the income of a household of four must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level; in 2016/17 this earning threshold was $2,665 per month, corresponding to $615 per week (USDA Food and Nutrition Service. 2017. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). On the internet at <> (accessed March 2018).
  5. Blau, Francine D. and Lawrence Kahn. 2016. “The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations” NBER Working Paper No. 21913. <> (accessed March 2018).
  6. Council for Economic Advisors. 2015. “Gender Pay Gap: Recent Trends and Explanations.” Issue Brief. The White House <> (accessed March 2016); Institute for Women’s Policy Research. February 2016. “The Economic Impact of Equal Pay by State.” IWPR #R468 <> (accessed March 2018).

Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Slowly Narrowing Gender Wage Gap


The commonly used figure to describe the gender wage ratio—that a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar earned  by a man—understates the pay inequality problem by leaving many women workers out of the picture. This report argues that a multi-year analysis provides a more comprehensive picture of the gender wage gap and presents a more accurate measure of the income women actually bring home to support themselves and their families.

  • Women today earn just 49 cents to the typical men’s dollar, much less than the 80 cents usually reported. When measured by total earnings across the most recent 15 years for all workers who worked in at least one year, women workers’ earnings were 49 percent—less than half—of men’s earnings, a wage gap of 51 percent in 2015. Progress has slowed in the last 15 years relative to the preceding 30 years in the study.
  • The penalties of taking time out of the labor force are high—and increasing. For those who took just one year off from work, women’s annual earnings were 39 percent lower than women who worked all 15 years between 2001 and 2015, a much higher cost than women faced in the time period beginning in 1968, when one year out of work resulted in a 12 percent cut in earnings. While men are also penalized for time out of the workforce, women’s earnings losses for time out are almost always greater than men’s.
  • Strengthening women’s labor force attachment is critical to narrowing the gender wage gap. Despite considerable progress over the last 50 years, 43 percent of today’s women workers had at least one year with no earnings, nearly twice the rate of men. With high penalties for weak labor force attachment, achieving higher lifetime earnings for women will require strengthening women’s attachment to the labor force. Research has shown that such policies as paid family and medical leave and affordable child care, can increase women’s labor force participation and encourage men to share more of the unpaid time spent on family care.
  • Strengthening enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies and Title IX in education is also crucial to narrowing the gender wage gap further. Improved enforcement will help women enter higher paying fields that are now, despite decades of progress, still too often off-limits to women.

Read the full report

View and Share Statistics

View and share select statistics from HRC’s groundbreaking youth survey.

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

HRC Youth Report; Growing Up LGBT in America

The Benefits of Healthy Habits

The impact of good health

You know that healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising, and avoiding harmful substances, make sense, but did you ever stop to think about why you practice them? A healthy habit is any behavior that benefits your physical, mental, and emotional health. These habits improve your overall well-being and make you feel good.

Healthy habits are hard to develop and often require changing your mindset. But if you’re willing to make sacrifices to better your health, the impact can be far-reaching, regardless of your age, sex, or physical ability. Here are five benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Controls weight

Eating right and exercising regularly can help you avoid excess weight gain and maintain a healthy weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, being physically active is essential to reaching your weight-loss goals. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, boost your immune system, and increase your energy level.

Plan for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. If you can’t devote this amount of time to exercise, look for simple ways to increase activity throughout the day. For example, try walking instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or pace while you’re talking on the phone.

Eating a balanced, calorie-managed diet can also help control weight. When you start the day with a healthy breakfast, you avoid becoming overly hungry later, which could send you running to get fast food before lunch.

Additionally, skipping breakfast can raise your blood sugar, which increases fat storage. Incorporate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet per day. These foods, which are low in calories and high in nutrients, help with weight control. Limit consumption of sugary beverages, such as sodas and fruit juices, and choose lean meats like fish and turkey.

Improves mood

Doing right by your body pays off for your mind as well. The Mayo Clinic notes that physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Eating a healthy diet as well as exercising can lead to a better physique. You’ll feel better about your appearance, which can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Short-term benefits of exercise include decreased stress and improved cognitive function.

It’s not just diet and exercise that lead to improved mood. Another healthy habit that leads to better mental health is making social connections. Whether it’s volunteering, joining a club, or attending a movie, communal activities help improve mood and mental functioning by keeping the mind active and serotonin levels balanced. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with family or friends on a regular basis, if not every day. If there’s physical distance between you and loved ones, use technology to stay connected. Pick up the phone or start a video chat.

Combats diseases

Healthy habits help prevent certain health conditions, such as heart diseasestroke, and high blood pressure. If you take care of yourself, you can keep your cholesterol and blood pressure within a safe range. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Regular physical activity and proper diet can also prevent or help you manage a wide range of health problems, including:

Make sure you schedule a physical exam every year. Your doctor will check your weight, heartbeat, and blood pressure, as well as take a urine and blood sample. This appointment can reveal a lot about your health. It’s important to follow up with your doctor and listen to any recommendations to improve your health.

Boosts energy

We’ve all experienced a lethargic feeling after eating too much unhealthy food. When you eat a balanced diet your body receives the fuel it needs to manage your energy level. A healthy diet includes:

  • whole grains
  • lean meats
  • low-fat dairy products
  • fruit
  • vegetables

Regular physical exercise also improves muscle strength and boosts endurance, giving you more energy, says the Mayo Clinic. Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and gets your cardiovascular system working more efficiently so that you have more energy to go about your daily activities. It also helps boost energy by promoting better sleep. This helps you fall asleep faster and get deeper sleep.

Insufficient sleep can trigger a variety of problems. Aside from feeling tired and sluggish, you may also feel irritable and moody if you don’t get enough sleep. What’s more, poor sleep quality may be responsible for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, and it can also lower your life expectancy. To improve sleep quality, stick to a schedule where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every night. Reduce your caffeine intake, limit napping, and create a comfortable sleep environment. Turn off lights and the television, and maintain a cool room temperature.

Improves longevity

When you practice healthy habits, you boost your chances of a longer life. The American Council on Exercise reported on an eight-year study of 13,000 people. The study showed that those who walked just 30 minutes each day significantly reduced their chances of dying prematurely, compared with those who exercised infrequently. Looking forward to more time with loved ones is reason enough to keep walking. Start with short five-minute walks and gradually increase the time until you’re up to 30 minutes.

The takeaway

Bad habits are hard to break, but once you adopt a healthier lifestyle, you won’t regret this decision. Healthy habits reduce the risk of certain diseases, improve your physical appearance and mental health, and give your energy level a much needed boost. You won’t change your mindset and behavior overnight, so be patient and take it one day at a time.

COVID-19: Major Changes

Dear students, faculty, staff, and families,

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and affect many parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has announced that we are past the point of being able to contain this disease. While there continue to be no reported cases of the virus on our campus, we need to focus on mitigating its possible effects.

We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it. The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great. The best time to act in ways that slow the spread of the virus is now. Let me make our decisions clear and then provide additional information:

  1. Amherst will move to remote learning after spring break, beginning Monday, March 23, so students can complete work off-campus.
  2. Classes are canceled on Thursday and Friday of this week, March 12-13, so faculty and staff have time to work on alternate modes of delivering courses, and students have every opportunity to secure transportation.
  3. All students are expected to have left campus by Wednesday, March 18 (this date has been updated since original communication). Only those students who have successfully petitioned and have remained in residence over spring break will be allowed to stay on campus to do their remote learning. The deadline to petition to remain on campus is noon on Friday, March 13.
  4. Campus will remain open and all faculty and staff should continue their regular work schedules.

Additional Information:

  1. How do I apply for permission to stay on campus through spring break and the remainder of the semester?
    We understand that for a limited number of students, going to or staying at a location away from campus is not possible. For that reason, the Office of Student Affairs has created a petition process for students who believe they must remain on campus. The deadline for submitting a petition is 12 noon this Friday, March 13 (this date has been updated since the original communication). Late petitions will not be considered. Students whose petitions are approved are required to remain in Amherst during spring break. 
  2. Should I take my personal belongings? What if I cannot take them all?
    Because the duration of this disruption is unclear, we encourage students to take as many of their belongings as possible, particularly the items and materials they need to continue their studies remotely after the break. A subsequent notice to students will provide more information about packing and moving support.
  3. Will the College be closed?
    Our campus will continue to operate during this period. The work of educating our students and caring for those who remain on campus will continue without interruption. Therefore, faculty and staff are expected to do their work as usual while following the health protocols the College has already put in place, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
  4. Where can I get more information, or ask additional questions?
    Please check your email and the College’s COVID-19 website for updates and more information. For questions that are not answered on the website, students, faculty, staff and families can email [email protected]. From noon until 8 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow, March 10, staff will be available to answer your questions at 413-542-2919.

It saddens us to be taking these measures. It will be hard to give up, even temporarily, the close colloquy and individual attention that defines Amherst College, but our faculty and staff will make this change rewarding in its own way, and we will have acted in one another’s best interests. We know these decisions pose significant challenges and wish they were not necessary. Our goal is to keep members of our community as safe as we possibly can while ensuring that students can complete their coursework for the semester and the daily operations of the institution can continue.

Sexual Harassment and Assault at Work: Understanding the Costs

In recent months, the #MeToo movement has raised the visibility of sexual harassment and assault at work and the personal toll it takes on women’s lives to unprecedented levels. Workplace sexual harassment is widespread, with studies estimating that anywhere from almost a quarter to more than eight in ten women experience it in their lifetimes (Feldblum and Lipnic 2016). Sexual harassment and assault at work have serious implications for women and for their employers. Women who are targets may experience a range of negative consequences, including physical and mental health problems, career interruptions, and lower earnings. In addition, sexual harassment may limit or discourage women from advancing into higher paid careers and may contribute to the persistent gender wage gap. It may also intersect with other forms of discrimination and harassment on the basis of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or disability.

Through a review of the current literature on sexual harassment and assault, this briefing paper highlights how workplace sexual harassment and assault affect women’s economic advancement and security, and the costs of these harms to employers (including estimates of financial losses where available). It also provides recommendations for preventing sexual harassment and reducing the negative effects of harassment for individuals and workplaces.

Defining and Reporting Workplace Sexual Harassment and Assault

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines sexual assault as “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent” (U.S. DOJ, OVW 2018). While sexual assault is a criminal offense, the law also recognizes sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) states that “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (U.S. EEOC 2018a). Such harassment may include unwelcome verbal, visual, nonverbal, or physical conduct that is of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex. Case law has established that to meet the legal standards for action, workplace harassment must be “severe or pervasive” and affect working conditions (U.S. EEOC 2018b).

Sexual harassment constitutes illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is enforced by the EEOC; anyone who wants to bring a legal claim of sexual harassment under Title VII has to bring a charge to the EEOC or a cooperating state agency first. In 2017 the EEOC received 26,978 claims of workplace harassment, of which a little more than half (12,428) were about sex-based harassment and a quarter (6,696) specifically about sexual harassment (U.S. EEOC 2018). Between 2005 and 2015, women made eight in ten sexual harassment charges to the EEOC; 20 percent were made by men (Frye 2017). Among women, Black women were the most likely of all racial and ethnic groups to have filed a sexual harassment charge (15.3 charges per 100,000 workers), and 1 in 17 sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC also alleged racial discrimination (Rossie, Tucker, and Patrick 2018). Research suggests that only a small number of those who experience harassment (one in ten) ever formally report incidents of harassment—let alone make a charge to the EEOC—because of lack of accessible complaints processes, simple embarrassment, or fear of retaliation (Cortina and Berdahl 2008). This fear is justified: according to an analysis of EEOC data, 71 percent of charges in FY 2017 included a charge of retaliation (Frye 2017).

In 2015 the EEOC convened a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace to better understand why harassment persists in so many workplaces and what can help prevent it. The Select Task Force looked not only at harassment that met the legal definition, but also at conduct and behavior that “may set the stage for unlawful harassment.”

Employment Situations Associated with High Rates of Harassment

Identifying work-related factors associated with increased risk of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace may help target efforts to eliminate sexual harassment in particular occupations and situations. Some key risk factors include:

• Working for tips. Workers in “accommodation and food services”—which includes wait staff and hotel housekeepers who are typically classified as “tipped”—account for 14 percent of harassment charges to the EEOC, which is substantially higher than the sector’s share of total employment (Frye 2017). A survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Center finds that women restaurant workers who rely on tips for their main source of income in states where the sub-minimum wage is $2.13 are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment—from managers, co-workers, and customers—as women servers in states that pay the same minimum wage to all workers. The survey also found that many women employees continue to work in tipped jobs in spite of harassment because tips are an important part of their income (Rodriguez and Reyes 2014).

• Working in an isolated context. Many workers—such as female janitors, domestic care workers, hotel workers, and agricultural workers, who often work in isolated spaces—report higher than average rates of sexual harassment and assault (Fernández Campbell 2018; Yeung and Rubenstein 2013; Yeung 2015). Isolation leaves women vulnerable to abusers who may feel emboldened by a lack of witnesses (Feldblum and Lipnic 2016). Frontline reported in 2015 that ABM (described as the largest employer of janitors) had 42 lawsuits brought against it in the previous two decades for allegations of workplace sexual harassment, assault, or rape (Yeung 2015). A National Domestic Workers Alliance and University of Chicago report found that 36 percent of live-in workers surveyed reported having been harassed, threatened, insulted or verbally abused in the previous 12 months (Burnham and Theodore 2012).

• Lacking legal immigration status or having only a temporary work visa. Undocumented workers or those on temporary work visas can be at particular risk of harassment and assault. Agriculture, food processing and garment factories, and domestic work and janitorial services are fields where many undocumented and immigrant women work (Bauer and Ramirez 2010; Hegewisch, Deitch, and Murphy 2011; Yeung and Rubenstein 2013; Yeung 2015). In principle, victims of sexual violence at work who bring charges have the same protection against deportation as survivors of domestic violence through U-visas (Hyunhye Cho 2014). Yet, many fear that reporting harassment or assault will put their immigration status at risk. Others may not know their rights or may find it difficult to access legal supports without knowing English. Retaliation against women who speak up against workplace sexual assault may involve threats to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement or to revoke temporary work visas (Bauer and Ramirez 2010; Smith, Avendaño, and Ortega 2009).

• Working in a male-dominated job. Women working in occupations where they are a small minority, particularly in very physical environments (Willness, Steel, and Lee 2007) or environments focused on traditionally male-oriented tasks (Fitzgerald et al. 1997), may also be especially vulnerable to harassment and assault. In a survey from the early 1990s, close to six in ten women working in construction report being touched or asked for sex (LeBreton and Loevy 1992). In another study from 2013, three in ten women construction workers report experiencing sexual harassment daily or frequently, with similar numbers reporting harassment based on sexual orientation, race, or age (Hegewisch and O’Farrell 2015). A 2014 RAND study of sexual assault and harassment in the military estimated that 26 percent of active duty women had experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the past year, including almost five percent who had experienced one or more sexual assaults (compared with seven and one percent of active duty men, respectively; National Defense Research Institute 2014). A recent National Academy of Sciences study documented high levels of harassment of women faculty and staff in academia in science, engineering, and medicine, with women in academic medicine reporting more frequent gender harassment than their female colleagues in science and engineering (National Academy of Sciences 2018).

• Working in a setting with significant power differentials and “rainmakers.” Many workplaces have significant power disparities between workers. These power imbalances, particularly given women’s lower likelihood of being in the senior positions, are a risk factor for sexual harassment and assault.[4] Workers in more junior positions may be especially concerned with retaliation, the handling of internal complaints, and continued vulnerability within their job. “Rainmakers”—such as a well-known professor, well-recognized or high-earning partner, or grant-winning researcher—may feel they do not need to comply with the rules that govern other employees (Sepler 2015) and may not be disciplined if accused of sexual harassment or assault (Feldblum and Lipnic 2016).

These structural risk factors often intersect and are exacerbated by racism, discrimination, and harassment on the basis of age, disability, or national origin. In addition, working in low-wage jobs itself can entail a higher risk of harassment (Sepler 2015). Low-wage work is more likely to take place in smaller, less formalized workplaces without official complaints mechanisms. Earning low wages may also make it more difficult for a worker to leave a job, or to risk losing it by making a complaint.

Sexual Harassment Costs to Individuals

Sexual harassment and assault can affect individuals in a number of ways, including their mental and physical health, finances, and opportunities to advance in their careers.

• Negative effects on mental and physical health. A number of studies indicate that sexual harassment has negative mental health effects. Exploratory research on the intersection of racial and sexual harassment suggests that harassment can lead to depression; one study reported that one in ten women who experienced harassment had such severe symptoms that they met the definition of PTSD (Dansky and Kilpatrick 1997). These effects can last for many years after the harassment (Dansky and Kilpatrick 1997; Houle et al. 2011). Even when relatively infrequent and less severe, harassment can have significant negative effects on psychological well-being and work behaviors (Schneider, Swan, and Fitzgerald 1997). In addition to negative mental health effects, researchers have found higher risks of long-term physical health problems in response to repeated, long-term gender-based harassment (Schneider, Tomaka, and Palacios 2001). Harassment can also lead to increased risks of workplace accidents by leaving workers distracted while working in a dangerous job (Sugerman 2018). These negative effects can often lead to significant costs for both mental and physical health services.

• Reduced opportunities for on-the-job learning and advancement. In many occupations, becoming a skilled worker and advancing in one’s profession depends on on-the-job instruction and mentorship of more experienced workers. Harassment can restrict women’s access to such learning opportunities (Hegewisch, Deitch, and Murphy 2011; Sugerman 2018). For women in the academic sciences, engineering, and medicine, a recent study found that harassment affects their career advancement by leading them to give up tenure opportunities, drop out of major research projects, or step down from leadership opportunities to avoid the perpetrator (National Academy of Sciences 2018). 

• Forced job change, unemployment, and abandonment of well-paying careers. Unemployment is a concern for some women who feel they must leave a job due to sexual harassment before finding another job opportunity (The Nation 2018). A recent study finds a high correlation between harassment and job change: eight in ten women who experienced sexual harassment began a new job within two years after experiencing harassment (compared with just over half of other working women). The study found considerable financial stress as a result of such job change, highlighting likely long-term consequences of harassment for earnings and career attainment. Harassment contributed to financial strain even when women were able to find work soon after leaving their previous employment (McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2017). As a result of harassment, some women may leave their field entirely (National Academy of Sciences 2018).

Individual financial costs of sexual harassment vary depending on the targets’ occupations and career trajectories—those in higher-paying occupations will lose more in wages than those in lower-paying occupations. The impact of sexual harassment, however, is significant no matter the amount of the wages lost: both those with high and low incomes may rely on this money to meet basic needs and achieve economic security.

Sexual Harassment Costs to Companies

Workplace harassment can result in substantial costs to companies, including legal costs if there are formal charges of harassment, costs related to employee turnover, and costs related to lower productivity from increased absences, lower motivation and commitment, and team disruption. While there are no recent estimates of the business costs of sexual harassment, earlier studies suggest these costs are substantial. Some of the economic burden of sexual harassment comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. An estimate based on a 1988 study of the costs of sexual harassment in the U.S. Army reported annual costs of $250 million, which would be much higher in 2018 dollars (Faley et al. 1999). A U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board study from the early 1990s estimated the economic costs of sexual harassment to federal government workplaces over a two-year period at $327 million (U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board 1995).

• Legal costs. High profile sexual harassment cases highlight the potential legal costs of tolerating harassment for employers (Fortune 2017). Typically, the amount of financial payouts in settlements is kept confidential, making it difficult to reliably estimate total legal costs related to harassment. The EEOC, which publishes all financial settlements it reaches on behalf of employees, in FY 2017 gained $46.3 million in monetary benefits for employees in relation to sexual harassment charges (U.S. EEOC 2018). These costs likely substantially underestimate the actual payouts made by employers in response to sexual harassment charges because the EEOC litigates only a small number of all charges it receives (Rutherglen 2015).

• Employee turnover. Research shows that sexual harassment in the workplace can increase employee turnover (Chan et al. 2008; Fitzgerald et al. 1997; Sims, Drasgow, and Fitzgerald 2005; and Purl, Hall, and Griffeth 2016). In their study of the relationship between sexual harassment and women’s career attainment, McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone (2017) found that targets of harassment were 6.5 times as likely as non-targets to change jobs. Costs related to employee turnover constitute the largest economic cost of sexual harassment, considerably higher than costs related to litigation (Merken and Shah 2014). Replacing an employee can be very expensive; a meta-analysis of case studies of the cost of employee turnover estimated average costs of 16 to 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary, rising to up to 213 percent of salary for experienced managerial and professional staff (Boushey and Glynn 2012).

• Increased Absences. An analysis The 2010 National Health Interview Survey found that those who reported having been harassed or bullied at work in the previous year were 1.7 times more likely to have had at least two weeks off work than those who had not (Khubchandani, and Price 2015). A 2016 S. Merit Systems Protection Board study (2018) found that close to one in six employees who experienced sexual harassment took sick or annual leave following their harassment.

• Reduced productivity. There is substantial research to show that workplace sexual harassment is associated with reduced motivation and commitment, as well as lower job satisfaction and withdrawal. The negative effects of sexual harassment are not limited to the targets and can also affect those who witness or hear about harassment, and reduce both individual and team performance. One study of 27 teams at a food services organization found that sexual hostility—a form of sexual harassment that consists of explicitly sexual verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are insulting—is damaging for team processes and performance (Raver and Gelfand 2005). Based on their meta-analysis of research on the antecedents and consequences of sexual harassment, Willness et al. estimate an average cost through lost productivity of $22,500 per person working in a team affected by harassment (Willness et al. 2007).

Recommendations for Addressing Workplace Sexual Harassment

Providing resources and training and the development of new tools to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment and assault are critical to making workplaces safer for all workers and capture resulting productivity gains.

• The EEOC recommends the following interventions to help address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace:

• Employers should conduct assessments for the risk factors associated with sexual harassment and assault and conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem within their organization;

• Employers should adopt and maintain comprehensive anti-harassment policies, communicate the policies to employees frequently, offer multi-faceted reporting procedures, and “test” their reporting systems to determine their functionality;

• Employers should ensure that discipline for perpetrators of workplace harassment is prompt, consistent, and proportionate to the severity of the circumstance;

• Employers should train middle-management and supervisors on how to respond effectively to observed instances of sexual harassment;

• Employers should include workplace civility training and bystander intervention training;

• Labor unions should ensure that their own policies and reporting systems meet the same standards as employer systems;

• Researchers should assess the impact of workplace trainings on reducing the level of sexual harassment in the workplace;

• The federal government should conduct additional research, including developing and fielding new polls and/or adding questions to existing surveys on sexual harassment and assault, through agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Office of Personnel Management.

• Many resources and trainings are available to those who wish to prevent sexual harassment and assault at work. Promising examples include bystander intervention trainings such as “Green Dot” (Alteristic 2018), and the new EEOC Respectful Workplaces training (U.S. EEOC 2017). In addition, worker-led efforts like the “Hands Off, Pants On” initiative by union hotel workers (United Here Local 1 2018) or practices implemented by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (2018), are showing how stakeholders can work together to prevent harassment.

Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects

Black women disproportionately experience violence at home, at school, on the job, and in their neighborhoods. The Status of Black Women in the United States details these many types of violence. Black women face high rates of intimate partner violence, rape, and homicide. Black girls and women also experience institutionalized racism; they are disproportionately punished in school, funneled into the criminal justice system after surviving physical or sexual abuse, disproportionately subjected to racial profiling and police brutality, and incarcerated at rates far exceeding their share of the population. By drawing on available studies the report helps lay the foundation necessary for positive change.

The data show that:

  • More than four in ten Black women experience physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes. White women, Latinas, and Asian/Pacific Islander women report lower rates.
  • Black women also experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse—including humiliation, insults, name-calling, and coercive control—than do women overall.
  • Sexual violence affects Black women at high rates. More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes—a higher share than among women overall.
  • Black women face a particularly high risk of being killed at the hands of a man. A 2015 Violence Policy Center study finds that Black women were two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than their White counterparts. More than nine in ten Black female victims knew their killers.

Racial disparities pervade the educational and criminal justice systems. Black girls are suspended or expelled from public schools at much higher rates than other girls. School administrators are more apt to perceive Black girls as “disruptive” or “loud” compared with other groups of boys and girls, and Black girls are more likely to be punished for dress code violations, talking back to teachers, and “defiance.”

Not surprisingly, multiple suspensions and expulsions impede some Black girls’ educational success. School discipline disparities can also contribute to girls’ disproportionate involvement with the criminal justice system. Black girls make up nearly one-third of the girls referred to law enforcement, and over 40 percent of girls arrested in connection with a school incident.

For too many Black girls school leads to imprisonment.  Black girls aged 18-19 were four times more likely to be imprisoned than White girls. Girls and women of color are the fastest growing populations in American prisons. Scholars cited in the report ascribe disproportionate incarceration rates to racial disparities in school discipline, “War on Drugs” policies, and other forms of institutionalized racism and sexism.

Formerly incarcerated Black women experience long-term economic, political, occupational, educational, and physical consequences. The report comprehensively describes the urgent need to prevent violence against black women.