Family Matters: Close Ties Boost Men's Mental Health

A family gathers around the dinner table
(Image credit: Family dinner photo via Shutterstock)

Middle-age adults who have regular contact with a group of friends are psychologically better off than those who don't, but when it comes to having close ties with many family members, men benefit more than women, a new study from England says.

The results of psychological tests show that people who had regular contact with 10 or more friends at age 45 had higher levels of well-being at age 50 than those with five or fewer friends. This was the case even when education levels, employment status and previous mental health issues were taken into account.

When the researchers looked at people's relationships with family members (outside their own household), they found that men who had regular contact with fewer than 10 relatives had worse mental health than men with at least 10 close relatives. But in women, there was no link between psychological well-being and the number of family members a woman saw regularly.

While the reason women didn't seem to benefit from a greater number of close family members is not entirely clear, it may be related to the negative effects of certain family relationships, the researchers said.

Among people of both genders, those who were in a relationship with a partner had higher numbers of relatives that people saw regularly. "It is possible that negative social exchanges within women’s social ties might have reduced any positive effects from [family relationships] built upon their partnership, as these have been found to be related to depression," the researchers wrote in their article, published yesterday (Aug. 22) in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers looked at information from 6,500 people in England who were born in 1958, gathered as part of the National Child Development Study. Participants were asked how many friends and relatives they met up with at least once a month. They also answered questions about their education, job and partnership status, and took a psychological well-being test that scored their mental health on a scale from 14 to 70.

Results also showed that study participants tended to have more friends than family members that they saw regularly. While nearly 19 percent of men and 16 percent of women reported having no family members that they saw regularly, only 11 percent of participants reported having no friends.

People's employment status did not affect the size of their social networks, but education did. Men with more education tended to have smaller groups of both friends and family members that they were close to; women with more education tended to have regular contact with fewer family members, but had more friends.

Among participants who reported having no close friends, women's mental health suffered more than men's. However, men's well-being was also affected if they had no close relatives, whereas for women, a lack of close relatives had no effect, the researches said.

Pass it on: Men's mental health is affected more than women's but having too little contact with family members, a new study says.

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Live Science Staff
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