Nervous Nellies

The consistent finding that women are more anxious than men (in fact, twice as prone to anxiety according to many studies) is endlessly fascinating, albeit a bit concerning.

At the heart of this finding is a very controversial nurture vs. nature debate – the type that underlies the most layered and persistent gender questions. Personally, I’ve always found the nurture/nature framing to be a false dichotomy, since in almost all cases it seems that both socialization and biology are critical to understanding human behaviors. 

As Clark acknowledges, there have been (seemingly) legitimate studies that have discovered hormonal differences between men and women which may explain why women are more biologically inclined toward anxiety.  On the other hand, there is no question in my mind that biology can only explain a portion of this supposed discrepancy in anxiety.

Clark makes three important, and rarely-discussed points here:

  • A recent study showed that even in situations in which male and female subjects experience the same level of an emotion, women are consistently seen—and even see themselves—as being “more emotional” than men.
  • Difference in the way we parent boys and girls means that by the time girls grow into young women, they’ve learned fewer effective coping strategies than their male counterparts, which translates to higher anxiety. Men are conditioned to tackle problems head-on, while women have been taught to worry rather than actively confront challenges.
  • It may simply be that women get diagnosed with anxiety disorders twice as often as men because anxious men are much less likely to seek psychological help. (Men, Clark reminds us, only make up 37% of patients in therapy!)

Read the full article here.