Female lawyers more prone to stress, alcohol abuse than their male colleagues

MINNEAPOLIS — Female lawyers are more likely to suffer work-related stress and turn to the bottle than their male colleagues, according to a new study. Researchers report that women are also more likely to consider leaving the legal profession due to burnout. Their findings show that work-related factors impact the high rates of stress, risky drinking, and attrition in lawyers differently, depending on gender.

More than half of female lawyers (56 percent) in the study engaged in “risky” drinking habits, compared to 46 percent of their male colleagues. Moreover, 34 percent of female lawyers report high-risk or hazardous boozing, compared to a quarter of men.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School surveyed members of the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar to learn about work-related factors that may predict stress, alcohol abuse, and attrition. A total of 2,863 men and women currently working in law responded to the survey, which was randomly sent to 80,000 people in the participating bar associations. Women comprised just over half of the final sample.

Overall, the results showed that men and women differ concerning the prevalence of stress, substance misuse, and attrition, as well as the degree to which workplace factors contributed to the problems. Two-thirds of the respondents reported working more than 40 hours per week. Nearly a quarter said they worked over 51 hours per week, on average. Younger lawyers were two to four times more likely than their older colleagues to report “moderate” or “high” levels of stress.

“High work over-commitment was associated with stress for both men and women, but the relationship was stronger for women. Thirty percent of respondents screened positive for high-risk hazardous drinking, though only two percent reported being diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, and a significantly greater proportion of women compared to men engaged in risky drinking and high-risk/hazardous drinking,” says study co-author Dr. Justin Anker of the University of Minnesota Medical School, per South West News Service.

The findings also show that more women (24 percent) than men (17 percent) contemplated leaving law due to mental health problems, burnout, or stress. Moreover, women with a high work-family conflict score were 4.5 times more likely to leave or consider leaving the profession, while men reporting high work over-commitment were more than twice as likely to consider leaving. “Interestingly, men who scored high on the perceived-likelihood-of-promotion-scale were 2.5 times less likely to consider leaving, but there was no association between these two items for women,” said Dr. Anker.

“These illuminating findings reveal troubling levels of distress within the legal profession, most notably for women, but they also provide vitally important trail markers for the path to improvement,” added study co-author Patrick Krill. “It is our hope that the profession will now follow that path.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.