Background: This study examined the associations of (combinations of) social roles (employee, partner and parent) with the prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders and whether social roles contribute to the explanation of the female preponderance in these disorders. Method: This was a cross-sectional study using data from 3857 respondents aged 25-55 of NEMESIS (Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study). Depression and anxiety disorders were measured using the CIDI 1.1. Results: The OR of depressive disorders and anxiety disorders among women compared to men was 1.71 (95% CI: 1.40-2.10). Among both genders, the partner role was associated with decreased risks of depression and anxiety and the parent role was not. The work role was a significant protective factor of depression and anxiety for men (OR = 0.40; 95% CI: 0.24-0.69) but not for women (OR = 0.86; 95% CI: 0.66-1.12). The effect of the work role was positive among women without children (OR = 0.28; 95% CI: 0.14-0.54), but not among those with children (OR = 1.01; 95% CI: 0.75-1.35). The gender risk for depression and anxiety decreased significantly by adding the work role variables into the model. Limitations: This was a cross-sectional study. This study did not give insight into the quality of social roles. Conclusion: The work role contributed to the explanation of the female preponderance in depression and anxiety disorders. Considering depression and anxiety among women, a focus upon quality and meaning of the work role, and barriers in combining the work role and parent role may be essential. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.