Female students report higher stress levels than males, research study says

Study finds that long term stress management more effective than short term


Photo by Eston Parker III.

Caroline Little, Contributing Writer

A recently published study conducted by researchers at FAU, along with their associates, investigated gender differences in stress levels and selected coping strategies among undergraduate students. 

The study measured how male and female students perceive stress as well as what management strategies they used to cope. Hypothesizing a noticeable difference between their male and female subjects, the researchers were not disappointed.

The general results of the study showed that the majority of undergraduate female students reported higher stress levels when compared to their male peers and more often used emotion-based coping methods. Of the female subject pool, 77.3% reported moderate stress levels and 21.6% reported severe stress levels. In comparison, 90.9% of male subjects reported moderate stress with only 7.1% reporting severe stress.

The study categorized the listed stress management strategies as either problem-focused, emotion-focused, or avoidant. Avoidant coping methods, like procrastination or escapism, are the least effective against reducing stress and can lead to depressive symptoms over time. Emotion-focused methods can provide temporary stress reduction, but research indicates methods like venting can actually increase stress levels over time. Problem-focused coping methods, like mindfulness and asking for help, have been shown to be most effective at reducing stress by changing the subject’s perspective or removing the stressor entirely.

Another measurable difference was found regarding the overwhelming selection by the female students of four strategies included in the study, namely: emotional support, self-distraction, venting, and instrumental support. No such difference was shown when measuring avoidant or problem-concentrated coping methods demonstrating that both genders are similarly likely to select methods like procrastination or asking for help.

When comparing the coping methods selected by the majority of female subjects to all of the strategies listed in the survey, researchers concluded that female students lean towards emotion-based methods more so than male students, meaning that female students choose methods of temporary stress relief more often than they choose problem-focused stress reduction strategies.

If students are unaware of positive coping methods they are unable to use them. According to B. Sue Graves, Ed.D., an associate professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and senior author, “Students may need educational interventions to develop effective and healthy coping strategies to last a lifetime.”

According to the study, acknowledging the gender specific differences regarding how students perceive and cope with stress may prove useful to university administration when drafting ideas for stress reduction campus-wide. Although the study calls for further investigation into gender disparities between perceived and reported stress levels, researchers stated that the evidence gathered can be applied to the formation of guidance policies and class development.

Study co-authors are Michael E. Hall, Ph.D., an associate professor; and Carolyn Dias-Karch, both in FAU’s Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion; Michael H. Haischer, M.S., Athletic and Human Performance Research Center and the Program in Exercise Science, Department of Physical Therapy, College of Health Sciences, Marquette University; and Christine Apter, FAU’s Campus Recreation Department.

 Caroline Little is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email her at [email protected]