Girls Are Twice as Anxious, Worried as Boys

We see it everywhere in Western culture - men are expected to be stoic rocks of emotional steadiness and women are expected to need their shoulders in which to bury their floods of tears. The question for psychologists and psychiatrists is whether this paints a true picture of the sexes. Are men less anxious by nature? Is there an inherent difference between the genders in terms of experienced anxiety? There are multitudes of studies, yet the discussion continues.

One study conducted in Pakistan examined just over 200 teenagers to measure potential anxiety differences between girls and boys. In Pakistani culture, boys and girls are separated for education and the two are rarely encouraged to interact once they reach school age. Not surprisingly, girls often feel worried over how to behave around the boys and feel anxious about being accepted. Westerners often see these very same concerns troubling teenage girls in cultures where the two sexes are more often thrown together.

The Pakistan study gave stress and self-esteem psychological assessments to the boys and girls and found that girls do experience slightly more anxiety than do boys. Like females around the world, these girls worried about their appearance and felt more personally responsible for how well relationships worked. The difference between male and female teen anxiety was not tremendous, but girls did come out with slightly higher scores.

In fact, if you take the entire body of research on the subject as a whole, you find that girls are two times more worried and anxious compared to boys. Even non-psychological political polls find that women report higher levels of anxiety about the state of our culture and economy versus men. Clinically speaking, mental health professionals diagnose and treat women for anxiety problems twice as often as they do men.

Some studies suggest that the gender/anxiety divide exists because of hormones. Naming hormones as the culprit behind anxiety is backed up by a number of scientific studies. For example, animal studies have found that female rats exhibit greater sensitivity to stress hormones. Separate studies seemed to show that testosterone protects male rats from over-sensitivity to stress hormones and anxiety in general.

Those who say that nurture rather than nature is to blame for women’s higher degrees of anxiety point to several key facts: One is that in infancy, it is the male babies, not the females, who demonstrate higher degrees of emotional neediness. Until adolescence, boys and girls experience equal levels of anxiety. Those who blame hormones point out that by mid-teen years, girls will be six times more apt to suffer from anxiety. Gender neutral advocates are quick to point out that the reason more girls are diagnosed with anxiety issues is that they are statistically more likely to seek out help when they feel anxious. Men, on the other hand, are notorious “stuffers.”

Thus, the question of why women are more anxious than men remains. Research shows that the gender gap is not as wide as cultural stereotypes suggest, but for whatever reason, gender equality is not yet a statistical fact. Whether or not men simply ignore their anxiety in great enough numbers to close the gap remains to be discovered.

Posted on July 19th, 2013
Posted in Mental Health

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