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

Reading time: 2 min — Spotted on Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

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

This is the conclusion of a vast Danish study, carried out on nearly 17. seniors of 12 at 62 years and whose results have just been published on 10 January 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 that is all the more solid if they are graduates.

That divorce or, more generally, the end of a romantic relationship has deleterious effects on physical and mental health nothing of a scoop. We know in particular that these events can result in a drop in immunity and an increase in the risk of mortality in the short term. 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 442.01 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 increase in 17% risk of dying within a year, versus 16% in widows.

Externalized grief

In the work at hand, 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 whether gender and level of education were taken into account.

To do this, they gathered information on relationship breakdowns (including 83 death) with 4.499 people (3.170 men and 1.442 women), and on the number of years of solitude with 4.1986 (3.336 men and 1.499 women) – all over a period ranging from 2008 to 2021. Regarding the duration of celibacy after separation or widowhood, these have been 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 reference.

Other elements, likely to affect the results, were also recorded by the scientists: age, level of studies, major existential events (loss of a parent, financial worries, family conflict, foster care), weight (measured by BMI), chronic illnesses, taking medication, but also personality traits (neuroticism, pleasantness 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 more inflammation in those who had experienced the most ruptures – with a rate 17% higher than the reference group. Likewise, this inflammation was up to 12% higher among men who have 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 alcohol consumption and other risky behaviors, when the latter manifest on average so-called internalization disorders, such as depression. This does not impact the inflammatory response in the same way.