Personally, I wasn’t surprised by the results of a 2010 American Psychological Association study on stress and gender that indicated that across every category — age, economics, education and marital status — women feel more stress than men.
When we were courting in our 30s and musing about growing old together, my then-future husband — whose looks had stayed radiantly youthful — wondered if it would bother me that in our dotage, he’d “look much younger” than me. I assured him that I would continue to work out and moisturize, but not to worry because I would make sure he caught up. A few years with me, and he would look every bit as seasoned and mature as I did.
The APA survey also had data showing that married ladies are far more stressed than unmarried ones. Fifty-four percent of women with husbands reported “feeling as though they could cry” in the previous month, compared with only 33 percent of single women who felt teary. The ratio for other symptoms of stress — feeling irritable or angry, having headaches, experiencing fatigue — was equally glaring, with 63 percent of married women reporting significantly more stress than single women (41 percent).
To me, the signs of strain as measured by the psychologists group sound a little more weighted toward hormonal fluctuations than situational duress, but my She The People colleague Diana Reese blames lack of sleep. “I have been chronically sleep deprived for 20 years, since my first child was born,” she wrote in an e-mail. Women more often handle infant nighttime feedings and get up with sick children, Diana observed. She also thinks mothers are naturally more apprehensive. “I think we worry more about our kids and how they’re doing.”
Actuarial tables have long demonstrated the fact that women live longer than men, but New Scientist magazine reports on a recent study by a Berkeley-based anthropologist and researcher on human evolution who found that, in the part of our brains associated with self-awareness, the gene activity “that occurs with aging appeared to progress faster in women.” The section of the brain that grows older faster may affect “general cognitive decline and degenerative disease.” Whether the stress is brought on by chemistry or obligation, the new brain study suggests that stress itself may be affecting how fast we age.
The research is very preliminary, but on the bright side, the same speeded-up section of the brain, called the “superior frontal gyrus,” is also associated with laughter. Even if we are wearing out faster, maybe we also get happier?
For now, we probably shouldn’t stress about it.
Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter @KickedByAnAngel.