Does Having More Men Stress a Society?

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Originally posted on May 16, 2014.

Being around men increases stress. Do countries with more man than women have higher stress levels?

In my last post, I promised to answer this question. But it’s a harder question than it seems. How do you measure a country’s level of stress? Some organizations, such as Gallup, do an excellent job surveying people around the world. I don’t work at Gallup, nor do I have access to their data. So I had to do the best I could.

First, I gathered country gender composition data from our friends at the World Bank. I separated countries according to whether they had a majority of male or female citizens. The average was 50.77% women (standard deviation 1.19; Minimum: 48.19%, Maximum: 54.30%). Of the 74 countries for which data were available, 19 were male-majority and 55 were female-majority.

Next, I searched for a good, comprehensive measure of country-level stress. Bloombergmade things easy. They computed a country’s stress score by combining seven factors:

  • Annual Homicide Rate per 100,000
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita
  • Income inequality (Gini coefficient)
  • Corruption (as measured by Transparency International)
  • Unemployment rate
  • Urban air pollution (micrograms per cubic meter)
  • Life expectancy (years at birth)

Finally, I compared country-level stress between male-majority and female-majority countries. This would give me an initial answer to my question. What were the results?

Countries with more men than women, compared to their female-majority counterparts, had higher levels of stress.


Three factors drove the effect: corruption, pollution, and life expectancy. In each case, more men than women equaled a more corrupt, polluted, and shorter lived society. A close fourth, which wasn’t quite statistically significant (p= .063), was Gross Domestic Product per capita. If a country had a male majority (vs. female majority), GDP was lower.

These findings offer a novel extension to the finding that being around men, versus women, increases rodent stress. But unlike those careful laboratory experiments, people weren’t randomly assigned to live in male- or female-majority countries. We can’t infer cause and effect. All we can conclude is that when men are present, stress seems to rise instead of fall.

About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”