Is life more difficult on Mars or Venus? A meta-analytic review of sex differences in major and minor life events

Ann Behav Med. Spring 1999;21(1):83-97. doi: 10.1007/BF02895038.


We conducted a meta-analysis of studies examining sex differences in reported levels of stress, considering the impact of: (a) the age and representativeness of sample participants, (b) whether life events were weighted or unweighted by participants for impact or severity, (c) the major versus minor nature of the stress, and (d) the life domain of the stressor. Overall, the meta-analysis of 119 studies including 83,559 participants found that females were exposed to more stress than were males (d=.123, r=.061). However, there was considerable heterogeneity among studies, with greater effect sizes associated with: (a) life events weighted by participants for impact, (b) adolescents compared to both younger and older samples, (c) major life stressors compared to minor stressors, and (d) interpersonal relationship stressors compared to work stressors. In none of the subgroup analyses did males experience considerably more stress than females. Evaluation of a subsample of 39 studies that examined gender differences in psychological symptoms revealed that females reported more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic problems (d=.282, r=.139) and that the sex difference in reports of psychological symptoms accounted for approximately 4% of the variance in the sex differences in reports of stress. Possible explanations for the observed patterning of effects are discussed, as are recommendations for further research.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Stereotyping