Monday, September 6, 2010

New research says men are more vulnerable than women

This press release from Wake Forest University is not new information - we have known for quite some time that men suffer more in difficult relationships than do women. I think the authors make a good point in suggesting that it's harder for men because their romantic partner is often their only source of intimacy, while women often have a good support network of friends and family. If the intimate relationship is not working, men often have no other source of support.

Related topics: We know that men are far more likely to suicide (2.5 times as often) following a break-up or divorce than are women. We also know that widowers die sooner after the loss of their wives than do widows after the loss of their husbands. Some numbers (edited for clarity):
In 2009, The Social Science Quarterly published a finding by Justin T. Denney: They found that 39% of divorced men are likely to end their life as compared to married or single men. When a man is widowed, the chances of him committing suicide rises to 50%. Denney says, "Marriage offers a support system for men that is uniquely beneficial. Maybe they forge a relationship and a reliance on their partner that's specific to that relationship." And, "Much as marriage is important to women, it just doesn't seem to be the driving factor."
This really highlights the way men are socialized to isolate themselves. There may have been good reasons for this in our history, but it is not working for us any more. We need social support and male friends, but doing so goes against everything we have been raised to believe about what is 'masculine.' It's long past time to redefine that term.

Here's the abstract:

Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood

Does the Association Differ for Women and Men?

  1. Robin W. Simon1
  2. Anne E. Barrett2
  1. 1Wake Forest University
  2. 2Florida State University
  1. Robin Simon, Department of Sociology, 219 Carswell Hall, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 32306-2240 E-mail:
  1. The authors made equal contributions to this article.


Although social scientists have long assumed that intimate social relationships are more closely associated with women’s than men’s mental health, recent research indicates that there are no gender differences in the advantages of marriage and disadvantages of unmarried statuses when males’ and females’ distinct expressions of emotional distress are considered. These findings have led to the conclusion that there has been a convergence in the importance of intimate relationships for men’s and women’s mental health. However, these patterns may not be evident for nonmarital romantic relationships among current cohorts of young adults. In this article, we examine the associations among several dimensions of these relationships and symptoms of both depression and substance abuse/dependence in a diverse sample of young adults in Miami, Florida. We find gender differences that vary across dimensions of relationships: While current involvements and recent breakups are more closely associated with women’s than men’s mental health, support and strain in an ongoing relationship are more closely associated with men’s than women’s emotional well-being. Our findings highlight the need to consider the period in the life course as well as experiences of specific cohorts of men and women when theorizing about gender differences in the importance of intimate relationships for mental health.

And now the summary article.

Emotional rollercoaster

New research says men are more vulnerable than women

Contrary to popular belief, the ups and downs of romantic relationships have a greater effect on the mental health of young men than women, according to a new study by Professor of Sociology Robin Simon.

In the study of more than 1,000 unmarried young adults between the ages of 18 and 23, Simon challenges the long-held assumption that women are more vulnerable to the emotional rollercoaster of relationships. Even though men sometimes try to present a tough face, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on men than women, Simon said. They just express their distress differently than women.

Simon’s research is published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Anne Barrett, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University, co-authored the article. “Our paper sheds light on the association between non-marital romantic relationships and emotional well-being among men and women on the threshold of adulthood,” Simon said. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships.”

That means the harmful stress of a rocky relationship is more closely associated with men’s than women’s mental health. The researchers also found that men get greater emotional benefits from the positive aspects of an ongoing romantic relationship. This contradicts the stereotypic image of stoic men who are unaffected by what happens in their romantic relationships.

Simon suggested a possible explanation for the findings: For young men, their romantic partners are often their primary source of intimacy — in contrast to young women who are more likely to have close relationships with family and friends. Strain in a current romantic relationship may also be associated with poor emotional well-being because it threatens young men’s identity and feelings of self-worth, she said.

Men and women express emotional distress in different ways, she added. “Women express emotional distress with depression while men express emotional distress with substance problems,” she said.

While young men are more affected emotionally by the quality of their current relationships, young women are more emotionally affected by whether they are in a relationship or not, Simon said. So, young women are more likely to experience depression when the relationship ends or benefit more by simply being in a relationship.

Simon taught at Florida State and the University of Iowa before joining the Wake Forest faculty in 2009. She earned her undergraduate degree in sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Indiana University.

For the study, Simon and Barrett analyzed data from a large sample of young adult men and women in south Florida. The survey data was originally gathered for a long-term study of mental health and the transition to adulthood.

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