Sex Roles

, Volume 65, Issue 5–6, pp 297–312 | Cite as

Toward an Understanding of Gender Differences in the Impact of Marital Conflict on Health

  • Rebekah WanicEmail author
  • James Kulik
Feminist Forum


The present paper addresses the consistent finding that men derive more benefit from marriage in terms of both morbidity and mortality compared to women in U. S. society. Based on the evidence that spousal conflict adversely influences physiology and health, with greater negative impact on wives compared to husbands, we propose that the stronger impact of relationship negativity contributes to the decreased marriage benefit for women. Evidence bearing on two explanations for this differential impact of conflict is reviewed. The relational-interdependence view, proposed by Kiecolt-Glaser and Newton (2001), holds that women are more affected by marital conflict because of their more relationally interdependent self-representations. An alternative view, which we call the subordination-reactivity hypothesis, suggests that women experience greater physiological and psychological reactivity to marital discord because they typically occupy subordinate (lower status and less powerful) positions relative to their husbands. A review of the evidence on the physiological effects of social status is combined with that of the relationship between gender and status, both within society at large and interpersonal relationships specifically, to support the subordination-reactivity hypothesis. Specifically, there is evidence that low social status negatively impacts health and that women generally occupy subordinate status. The relational-interdependence view is re-evaluated and its intersection with the subordination-reactivity hypothesis is explored. Finally, implications and future directions are discussed.


Gender differences Marital conflict Subordination-reactivity hypothesis Health 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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