Loneliness and breakups

Loneliness and breakups harm men’s health more than women’s

More than two disunities and seven years of loneliness during their adult life translates to a higher level of inflammation.

The news has something to shake up some received ideas . On a medical level in general and inflammatory in particular, heartache and years of celibacy are more damaging to the health of men than to that of women.

This is the conclusion of a large Danish study , conducted on nearly 10,000 people aged 48 to 62, the results of which have just been published on January 10 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. An effect all the more significant since the subjects, in twenty-six years of adult life, had experienced at least two breakups and seven years of loneliness. And an association all the more solid that they were graduates.

That divorce or, more generally, the end of a romantic relationship has deleterious effects on physical and mental health is nothing short of a scoop. In particular, we know that these events can lead to a drop in immunity and an increase in the risk of short-term mortality . And that the effect does not have the same strength according to the sex of the individuals – the relatively weaker here being the male. For example, in 2008, in a large study conducted on nearly 400,000 American couples, doctors and sociologists Felix Elwert and Nicholas Christakis were able to show that, among widowers, the death of their spouse was associated with an 18% increase in risk of dying within a year, compared to 16% among widows.

Externalized grief

In the work that concerns us, researchers from the University of Copenhagen, led by Rikke Lund , wanted to analyze the impact of the cumulative number of breakups or years of loneliness on the immune system, and to find out whether gender and level of education were taken into account.

To do this, they gathered information on relationship terminations (including 83 deaths) from 4,612 people (3,170 men and 1,442 women), and on the number of years of loneliness from 4,835 (3,336 men and 1,499 women). – all over a period from 1986 to 2011. Regarding the duration of celibacy after separation or widowhood, these were distributed into three categories – less than a year, between 2 and 6 years, more than 7 years , with the first considered as normal and therefore acting as a reference.

Other elements, likely to affect the results, have also been recorded by the scientists: age, level of education, major existential events (loss of a parent, financial worries, family conflict, placement in a foster family) , weight (measured by BMI), chronic diseases, taking medication, but also personality traits (neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness). Finally, the participants’ level of inflammation was measured by standard markers (interleukin 6 and C-reactive protein) via blood tests.

In men, the researchers observed the most inflammation in those who had experienced the most ruptures – with a rate 17% higher than the reference group. Similarly, this inflammation was up to 12% higher in men who had experienced at least seven years of loneliness. Scientists have not detected any such association in women.

According to Rikke Lund’s team, this could be linked to the tendentially differentiated reactions of men and women after a disunity – the former having rather an externalized grief, with excessive consumption of alcohol and other risky behaviors, while the latter manifest in average of so-called internalizing disorders, such as depression. This does not impact the inflammatory response in the same way.

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