Keeping it in the family: Why close relationships with relatives is key for men's healthWide circle of friends you see regularly is crucial for mid-life well-being
07:38 GMT, 24 August 2012
Having a healthy family life is more important for a man's mental well-being than that of a woman's, a new study has found.
While both men and women benefit from regularly seeing a wide circle of friends, a strong network of relatives is important, but mainly for men.
Psychological wellbeing was also
influenced by the size of kinship networks, although to a lesser extent
than friendship—but only for men.
A close circle of relatives is crucial for a man's wellbeing, the research discovered
The research, involving 6,500 Britons born in 1958, were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Psychological well-being was especially
poor among those with no relatives or friends.
Among men this was 2.3
points lower if they had no relatives and 2.6 points lower if they had
no friends compared with those with 10 or more regular social contacts.
For women, lack of friends had an even
greater impact on well-being. This was 4 points lower if they had no
friends. But a lack of relatives had no emotional impact.
The authors base their findings on information collected from the participants, all of whom were part of the National Child Development Study (NCDS), when they were aged 42, 45 and 50.
At the age of 42, participants completed a questionnaire to gauge their psychological well-being and provided details of their relationship and job status, as well as the age at which they left full time education.
Close relationships with relatives had a huge impact on men's health – but none on women's
Most had left school at the age of 16, had a partner and were in pretty good psychological health.
Their responses were used to predict the size and make-up of their friend and family networks by the age of 45, when they were asked to state how many friends and relatives they met up with once a month or more.
One in seven said they had no contacts with relatives outside their immediate household and around one in 10 said they had no friends. Four out of 10 men and around one in three women said they had more than six friends whom they saw regularly.
Employment had no bearing on the size of social networks, but education did.
Men who left full time education between the ages of 17 and 19 were 45 per cent less likely to have a larger kinship network, while those staying on until 20 or beyond were 60 per cent less likely to do so.
The comparable figures for women were 17 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively.
Staying on in full time education after 16 also reduced the size of men's friendship network, but it increased women's—by 38 per cent if they left between 17 and 19, and by 74 per cent if they left after the age of 20.
Having a partner was associated with a larger kinship network. Being single reduced that probability by 31 per cent for men and by 26 per cent for women. But it had no impact on friendship networks.
When participants' psychological well-being was assessed at the age of 50, the results showed a significant association between the number of friends and psychological well-being, the impact of which was greater for women.
Compared with those with 10 or more regular contacts, smaller networks of friends at the age of 45 were associated with significantly lower levels of psychological well-being for both sexes.
These findings were consistent irrespective of whether they had a partner or job or had had a mental health issue in the past.