Stressful Life Events, Differential Vulnerability, and Depressive Symptoms: Critique and New Evidence

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This paper considers whether women and less well-educated individuals are more vulnerable to the impacts of stressful life events on mental health. It finds they are not.

Taking a new approach to researching life stress using data from a UK household survey, the research sets out to replicate and then go beyond previous work which indicated that these groups were hit harder by stressful life events.

Contrary to earlier work, the research finds that men and women – and people with different levels of education – experience similar average increases in depressive symptoms after stressful life events. There was, however, some tentative evidence that women might be more affected where stressful life events were happening to other members of the household, e.g. a partner losing their job or falling seriously ill.

The researchers say this shows that while women do suffer higher rates of depression on average, this isn’t because they are somehow more psychologically vulnerable to stressful events, as some other research has claimed.

They add that the findings for men highlight that we should not assume that just because someone is a male they will cope well with stressful life events.