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Lives of Women Under Stress

Does stress influence health status and therefore longevity? Nobody really knows. There are indirect impacts with people under stress taking less care of diet and hygiene. There are differences in the way men and women cope with stress. The classic response to stress is to either face the cause head on or to run away and hide (fight or flight). A landmark study by Dr Shelley Taylor or UCLA (See FinDem Resources/Academics) proposes a concept that women have an inbuilt response to 'tend and befriend' rather than 'fight or flight'. If this is a more beneficial response health wise, it could explain the persistent higher longevity of women over men through demographic history.

Dr Taylor's concept is summarised in the following extract from her paper: 'Tending involves nurturing activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process. The bio-behavioral mechanism that underlies the tend and befriend pattern appears to draw heavily on the attachment/care giving system, and considerable neuroendocrine evidence from animal and human studies suggests that oxytocin, in conjunction with female reproductive hormones and endogenous opioid peptide mechanisms, may be at its core.' You can download her paper from Resources/Research Papers.

FinDem is currently working on a possible related hypothesis to do with the resurgence of women into the workforce in the mid 1980's. This hypothesis is that the stress of career and family management (and divorce in many cases) may have left women too time-poor for enough 'tend and befriend' space to counter the stress. From the Lifetimes Calculator in the Research Centre we have calculated the probability of men and women surviving from age 45 to 65 for all life tables from ALT 1881-90 to 2000-02. There is a clear trend of narrowing of women's advantage over men in the last 20 years. There may be other explanations for this which we are checking with relevant institutes. You can view a graph of this in Research Centre/Miscellaneous Charts.

Posted Saturday, 18 June 2005


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