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Stress, self-esteem, and mental health: How does gender make a difference?

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Questionnaire responses of 804 women and 127 men were compared to assess sex differences in college students' stress levels and reactions to stress, and the extent to which their self-esteem, interpersonal self-confidence, and self-concepts are associated with their experiences with stress. The men and women reported similar stress levels in most areas of life, but the women reported greater stress regarding family relationships and concern about their mental health. The women reported that when they are under stress, they experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety, and are more likely to express their anger and feelings, whereas the men reported that they become more active in response to stress. For both men and women, levels of stress and reactions to stress were associated with self-esteem, interpersonal self-confidence, and self-concepts. The results indicate that sex differences in dysfunctional reactions to stress can be explained by sex differences in self-concept more persuasively than can differences in areas of stress.

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The author wishes to thank the presidents of the seven colleges for their support and encouragement; the Seven College Study Advisory Board, campus coordinators, and staff for their contributions; and the students for their interest and participation. The author also expresses her appreciation for the support of the Henry A. Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College. This research was supported in part by a grant from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.

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Zuckerman, D.M. Stress, self-esteem, and mental health: How does gender make a difference?. Sex Roles 20, 429–444 (1989).

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