Jessica Porter

Project title: Perceptions of and objective measures of gendered stress in construction

Degree: MS (Thesis) | Program: Exposure Science (ES) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2019 | Faculty advisor: Noah S. Seixas


Background: Women are an underrepresented group in the construction trades; as such, they experience high levels of gendered stressors such as sexual harassment and gender discrimination. While studies have characterized stress outcomes subjectively among this population, objective indicators and relevant coping mechanisms have yet to be evaluated. Objectives: The primary aim of this research is to explore psychosocial exposures among men and women, and to evaluate whether biomarkers of stress are elevated in a) women, b) those with high perceived-stress, and c) those with specific work and non-work stressors. Furthermore, positive and negative coping mechanisms used to handle workplace stress were evaluated to determine how they may affect the relationship between exposure to gendered stressors and measured stress outcomes. Methods: Twenty-two women, 17 men, and 1 individual who identified as non-binary from 3 construction trades in the Seattle area participated in this cross-sectional study. Each participant completed a questionnaire and provided a blood sample. The questionnaire data provided information about work-related psychosocial exposures, individual coping mechanisms, and subjective perceived stress scores. Serum from the blood samples were analyzed for the following chronic stress biomarkers: C-Reactive Protein (CRP), Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), Interleukin-6 (IL-6), and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate (DHEAs). Results: Perceived stress scores were significantly higher among women (6.05 + 3.12) compared to their male counterparts (3.53 + 2.85), and women also had significantly lower levels of log transformed DHEAs measures, which is the expected chronic stress response (0.07 ug/mL + 0.22 and 0.24 ug/mL+ 0.15, respectively). However, this measure is also lower among women in general and older individuals, so results must be interpreted cautiously. Women also experienced greater proportions of work-related stressors, and three of these stressors (gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and heightened vigilance) were significantly associated with higher perceived stress scores among all participants after controlling for age and gender. Greater heightened vigilance was associated with higher changes of the inflammatory biomarker CRP (063%, CI: -0.8%, 1.7x102%) among all participants after controlling for age and gender. Finally, women exercised significantly more than men, and this work-related stress coping mechanism was significantly associated with decreases in CRP and IL-6 measures (50%, CI: -67%, -29% and 30%, CI: -45%, -10% respectively). Conclusions: These exploratory analyses demonstrated significant differences in the experience of psychosocial stressors and perceived stress between men and women in the pipe, sheet metal, and carpentry trades. Use of “heightened vigilance” as one of these stressors in the context of gender discrimination rather than racial discrimination is novel, and it is the first study to assess stress biomarkers among women in this industry. This study also lends insight into ways in which these women cope with work-related stress at an individual level; however, identifying organizational and industry changes necessary to prevent gender-specific, work-related psychosocial stressors is important for improving health and overcoming barriers to women’s full participation in the construction industry. URI