The Effect of Social Relationships on Psychological Well-Being: Are Men and Women Really So Different?

We assess evidence for gender differences across a range of relationships and consider whether the form and quality of these relationships affect the psychological functioning of men and women differently. Data from a national panel survey provide consistent evidence that men's and women's relationships differ. However, we find little evidence for the theoretical argument that women are more psychologically reactive than men to the quality of their relationships: Supportive relationships are associated with low levels of psychological distress, while strained relationships are associated with high levels of distress for women and for men. However, if women did not have higher levels of social involvement than men, they would exhibit even higher levels of distress relative to men than they currently do. We find little evidence for the assertion that men and women react to strained relationships in gender-specific ways–for example, with alcohol consumption versus depression.