New research from the UK finds that women report higher stress levels than men in response to challenging life events such as starting a new job or being seriously ill.
Commissioned by the Physiological Society, the study asked 2,000 people from across Britain to rate on a scale of zero to ten how stressful they found (or would imagine they’d find) 18 different life events, ranging from relatively worry-free ones like taking a vacation to the definitely difficult such as imprisonment or the death of a spouse.
For all of the listed events, researchers found that women reported greater stress levels than men. On average, the difference was 0.56 points higher out of ten for women, with the biggest gap coming in on the stress caused by the threat of terrorism, which was 1.25 points higher for women.
“It was striking that for every single event in this study, from money problems to Brexit, women reported greater stress levels than men. This could have a real impact on women’s health,” says Dr. Lucy Donaldson, Chair of the Physiological Society’s Policy Committee.
The survey also revealed age-related differences in reported stress levels, with younger participants aged 18 to 34 stating a higher stress level connected to losing one’s cellphone and older participants reporting higher stress levels concerning the onset of a serious illness.
The new survey mirrored pioneering work conducted in 1967 by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, who developed a questionnaire for identifying self-reported major life stressors called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). Some similarities and differences emerged between the results of today and those 50 years ago.
While both cohorts rated the death of a spouse as the most stressful event, those in 1967 put divorce as the second-worst event, whereas today’s group knocked divorce down to sixth place. And perhaps reflecting the precariousness of employment in today’s workforce, respondents for the new survey rated the relative stress of being fired as 90 per cent as stressful as the most stressful event, while in 1967, getting fired was seen as only 47 per cent as stressful as the event with the highest stress value.
The new study also reported on participants’ submitted accounts of their own particular stressors, with some responses seemingly of the timeless variety (“family arguments at Christmas”) and others proving more contemporary (“the scrutiny of social media”).
The 2010 version of the Canadian General Social Survey (GSS) found that one in four Canadians in the workforce (27 per cent) described their day-to-day lives as “highly stressful,” with another 46 per cent saying that they were “a bit stressed.” Results showed that workers with one or two children were more likely to describe their lives as extremely stressful in comparison to those without children, while those in white-collar managerial or professional jobs were more likely to report high stress than those in blue-collar jobs. In contrast to the new Physiology Society study, the Canadian GSS reported that a worker’s gender did not affect the probability that he or she would describe their life as extremely stressful.