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Exploring the Gender Gap in Young Adult Mental Health during COVID-19: Evidence from the UK


Aims To explore the prevalence of a mental health gender gap within a young adult sample during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to identify the impact of loneliness and domestic time use on young peoples, and particularly young womens mental health. Method Using data from the UK Longitudinal Household Survey (UKHLS), this research examines mental health prior to the pandemic (2019) and during the pandemic (April 2020 until September 2021). A random-effects regression analysis was conducted to examine the effects of loneliness, and domestic factors across age and gender to ascertain their contribution to the mental health gender gap in a young adult population. Results Average mental health decline was consistently higher for women compared to men, and young people (ages 16-24) saw a reduction in mental health twice as much as those in the oldest age category (over 65). Loneliness accounted for a share of the mental health gender gap, and a more decrease in mental health was recorded for young women experiencing loneliness, compared to older age groups. Domestic and familial factors did not have a significant impact on young people’s mental health. Conclusions Although across all ages and genders, mental health had returned to near pre-pandemic levels by September 2021, young people and especially women continue to have worse mental health compared to other age groups, which is consistent with pre-COVID age and gender inequalities. Loneliness is a key driver in gendered mental health inequalities during the pandemic in a young adult population.