Though anxiety is more prevalent in women compared to men, a new study suggests poverty, not a psychiatric condition, is the leading cause of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

The study, which was conducted at Princeton University, comprised of 4,898 participants, who surveyed and monitored women with a child three years of age. Results confirmed mother’s who endure poverty were at greater risks of being classified as having GAD.

According to Judith C. Baer, lead study author and associate professor in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University, though stress over a duration of time may lead to anxiety such as GAD, there is not concrete evidence that links GAD to mothers with a psychological disorder.

Baer and her colleagues also examined the relations between mothers living in poverty and their children to determine whether there was a correlation between poverty, maternal anxiety and if it will play a role on their offspring developing their own anxiety. Rsearch disclosed the path from anxiety to parenting stress was not related.

"This suggests that mothers can be poor and anxious, but still provide positive parenting for their children," Baer said.

Baer also stated that presently, psychiatric diagnoses are established based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which uses symptom-based measures to determine disorders. Currently, versions do not consider context, such as poverty conditions, in determining diagnoses.

Researchers believe by changing and broadening definitions for GAD, physicians may better diagnose the reactions of these mothers that are faced with poor conditions as symptoms of the anxiety disorder.

"Our findings suggest that anxiety in poor mothers is usually not a psychiatric problem but a reaction to severe environmental deficits," she continued. "Thus, assessment should include careful attention to contextual factors and environmental deficits as playing a role in the presentation of symptoms. Labeling an individual with a diagnosis, especially if it is inaccurate, has a serious social stigma."

The study was published in Child and Adolescent Social Work.