Is life more difficult on mars or venus? A meta-analytic review of sex differences in major and minor life events

  • Mary C. Davis
  • Karen A. Matthews
  • Elizabeth W. Twamley
Other Empirical Articles

Abstract

We conducted a meta-analysis of studies examining sex differences in reported levels of stress, considering the impact of: (a) the age and representativeness of sample participants, (b) whether life events were weighted or unweighted by participants for impact or severity, (c) the major versus minor nature of the stress, and (d) the life domain of the stressor. Overall, the meta-analysis of 119 studies including 83,559 participants found that females were exposed to more stress than were males (d=.123, r=.061). However, there was considerable heterogeneity among studies, with greater effect sizes associated with: (a) life events weighted by participants for impact, (b) adolescents compared to both younger and older samples, (c) major life stressors compared to minor stressors, and (d) interpersonal relationship stressors compared to work stressors. In none of the subgroup analyses did males experience considerably more stress than females. Evaluation of a subsample of 39 studies that examined gender differences in psychological symptoms revealed that females reported more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic problems (d=.282, r=.139) and that the sex difference in reports of psychological symptoms accounted for approximately 4% of the variance in the sex differences in reports of stress. Possible explanations for the observed patterning of effects are discussed, as are recommendations for further research.

References

  1. (1).
    Eisler RM, Skidmore JR: Masculine gender role stress: Scale development and component factors in the appraisal of stressful situations.Behavior Modification. 1987,11:123–136.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. (2).
    Goldberg H:The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege (2nd Ed.). New York: Signet, 1987.Google Scholar
  3. (3).
    Eisler RM, Skidmore JR, Ward CH: Masculine gender-role stress: Predictor of anger, anxiety, and health-risk behaviors.Journal of Personality Assessment. 1988,52:133–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. (4).
    Sorenson G, Pirie P, Folsom A, et al: Sex differences in the relationship between work and health: The Minnesota Heart Survey.Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 1985,26:379–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. (5).
    Bernard J:Women and the Public Interest. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1971.Google Scholar
  6. (6).
    Gove WH, Tudor J: Adult sex roles and mental illness.American Journal of Sociology. 1973,78:812–835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. (7).
    Netterstrom B, Kristensen TS, Damsgaard MT, Olsen O, Sjol A: Job strain and cardiovascular risk factors: A cross-sectional study of employed Danish men and women.British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1991,48:684–689.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. (8).
    Barrett RC, Baruch GK: Women's involvement in multiple roles and psychological distress.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1985,49:135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. (9).
    Mortimer JT, Sorenson G: Men, women, work, and the family. In Borman K, Quarm D, Giodeonse S (eds),Women in the Workplace: Effects on Families. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishers, 1984, 139–168.Google Scholar
  10. (10).
    Aneshensel CS, Pearlin LI: Structural contexts of sex differences in stress. In Barnet RC, Bierner L, Baruch GK (eds),Gender and Stress. New York: Free Press, 1987, 75–95.Google Scholar
  11. (11).
    Wethington E, McLeod JD, Kessler RC: The importance of life events for explaining sex differences in psychological distress. In Barnett RC, Bierner L, Baruch GK (eds),Gender and Stress. New York: Free Press, 1987, 144–156.Google Scholar
  12. (12).
    Aro H: Life stress and psychosomatic symptoms among 14- to 16-year old Finnish adolescents.Psychological Medicine. 1987,17:191–201.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. (13).
    Gore S, Aseltine RH, Colten ME: Gender, social-relational involvement, and depression.Journal of Research on Adolescence. 1993,3:101–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. (14).
    Sandler IN, Wolchik SA, Braver SL: Stressors of children's postdivorce environments. In Wolchik SA, Karoly P (eds),Children of Divorce New York: Gardner Press, 1988, 111–143.Google Scholar
  15. (15).
    Towbes LC, Cohen LH, Glyshaw K: Instrumentality as a life-stress moderator for early versus middle adolescents.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1989,57:109–119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. (16).
    Wagner BM, Compas BE: Gender, instrumentality, and expressivity: Moderators of the relation between stress and psychological symptoms during adolescence.American Journal of Community Psychology. 1990,18:383–406.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. (17).
    Lazarus RS, Folkman S:Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing, 1984.Google Scholar
  18. (18).
    Shadish W, Sweeney R: Mediators and moderators in meta-analysis: There's a reason we don't let dodo birds tell us which psychotherapies should have prizes.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1991,59:883–893.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. (19).
    Johnson BT: Software for the meta-analytic review of research literatures. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1989.Google Scholar
  20. (20).
    Hedges LV, Olkin I:Statistical Methods for Meta-Analysis. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  21. (21).
    Matt GE, Cook TD: Threats to the validity of research synthesis. In Cooper H, Hedges LV (eds),Handbook of Research Synthesis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994, 503–520.Google Scholar
  22. (22).
    Rosenthal R:Meta-Analytic Procedures for Social Research Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984.Google Scholar
  23. (23).
    Grossman M, Wood W: Sex differences in intensity of emotional experience: A social role interpretation.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1993,65:1010–1022.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. (24).
    Mirowsky J, Ross CE: Sex differences in distress: Real or artifact?American Sociological Review. 1995,60:449–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. (25).
    Spence JT, Helmreich RL:Masculinity and Femininity. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1978.Google Scholar
  26. (26).
    Billings AG, Moos RH: The role of coping responses and social resources in attentuating the stress of life events.Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1981,4:139–157.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. (27).
    Folkman S, Lazarus RS: An analysis of coping in a middle-aged community sample.Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 1980,21:219–239.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. (28).
    Porter LS, Stone AA: Are there really gender differences in coping? A reconsideration of previous data and results from a daily study.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 1995,14:184–202.Google Scholar
  29. (29).
    Bolger N, DeLongis A, Kessler RC, Schilling EA: Effects of daily stress on negative mood.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1989,57:808–818.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. (30).
    Kessler RC, McLeod JD: Sex differences in vulnerability to undesirable life events.American Sociological Review. 1984,49:620–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. (31).
    Leadbeater BJ, Blatt SJ, Quinlan DM: Gender-linked vulnerabilities to depressive symptoms, stress, and problem behaviors in adolescents.Journal of Research on Adolescence. 1995,5:1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. (32).
    Bush DM, Simmons RG: Gender and coping with the entry into early adolescence. In Barnett RC, Bierner L, Baruch GK (eds),Gender and Stress New York: Free Press, 1987, 185–217.Google Scholar
  33. (33).
    Best R:We've All Got Scars. Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  34. (34).
    McDonald LM, Korabik K: Sources of stress and ways of coping among male and female managers.Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 1991,6:185–198.Google Scholar
  35. (35).
    Murphy SA, Beaton RD, Cain K, Pike K: Gender differences in fire fighter job stressors and symptoms of stress.Women and Health. 1994,22:55–69.Google Scholar
  36. (36).
    Scott NA: Chief student affairs officers: Stressors and strategies.Journal of College Student Development. 1992,33:108–116.Google Scholar
  37. (37).
    Martocchio JJ, O'Leary AM: Sex difference in occupational stress: A meta-analytic review.Journal of Applied Psychology. 1989,74:495–501.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. (38).
    Rosenthal R: The “file drawer problem” and tolerance for null results.Psychological Bulletin, 1979,86:638–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. (39).
    Rosenthal R, Rubin D: A simple, general purpose display of magnitude of experimental effect.Journal of Educational Psychology. 1982,74:166–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. (40).
    Steering Committee of the Physician's Health Study Research Group: Preliminary report: Findings from the aspirin component of the ongoing physician's health study.New England Journal of Medicine. 1988,318:262–264.Google Scholar
  41. (41).
    Brown GW, Harris TO:Life Events and Illness. New York: Guilford, 1989.Google Scholar
  42. (42).
    Cohen L:Research on Stressful Life Events: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. New York: Sage, 1988.Google Scholar
  43. (43).
    Zimmerman M: Methodological issues in the assessment of life events: A review of issues and research.Clinical Psychology Review. 1983,3:339–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. (44).
    Zautra AJ, Affleck G, Tennen H: Assessing life events among older adults. In Lawton MP, Teresi JA (eds),Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics. New York: Springer, 1994, 324–352.Google Scholar
  45. (45).
    Rosenthal R: Writing meta-analytic reviews.Psychological Bulletin. 1995,118:183–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. (46).
    Cooper H, Hedges LV:The Handbook of Research Synthesis. New York: Russell Sage, 1994.Google Scholar
  47. (47).
    Stone A, Neale JM, Shiffman S: Daily assessment of stress and coping and their association with mood.Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 1993,15:8–16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary C. Davis
    • 1
  • Karen A. Matthews
    • 2
  • Elizabeth W. Twamley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempe
  2. 2.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations