Menus Subscribe Search

Quick Studies

argument.jpg

(Photo: smilekerry/Flickr)

Getting Nagged by Loved Ones Might Be Your Death Sentence

• May 15, 2014 • 10:21 AM

(Photo: smilekerry/Flickr)

People who clash with their partners and children are more likely to die.

It’s possible to nag somebody to death, and domestic arguments can be fataleven when there’s no physical violence.

It’s long been known that having loved ones in your life can help keep you feeling, well, full of life. A literature review of 148 studies published in PLoS Medicine four years ago uncovered an “increased likelihood of survival” for those who enjoyed “stronger social relationships,” regardless of their age, gender, health condition at the beginning of each of the studies, or even their eventual cause of death.

But what happens when family members are a source of constant stress in somebody’s life, providing more tension than tenderness? Previous research has found that stressful family relations can be unhealthy; the variable has been linked to endocrine regulation problems, poor cardiovascular health, and immune deficiencies. Now, researchers in Denmark, who studied data gathered on nearly 10,000 middle-aged Danes over 11 years, have reported that family stresses can not only contribute to health problems—they can become lethal.

Those in stressful family situations could find it harder to stop smoking, may drink more alcohol, and exercise less frequently than others.

According to the findings, published last week in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, frequent worries and demands from partners or children were associated with a 50 to 100 percent increased chance of dying during the period analyzed. “Frequent conflicts” with these family members, meanwhile, could make somebody two to three times more likely to die.

“I think these potential stressors in life are common to humans all over the world,” says Rikke Lund, an associate professor in the University of Copenhagen’s public health department. “I have no reason to believe that the health consequences of serious worries or demands, and conflicts with social relations, should be an isolated Danish phenomenon.”

The researchers analyzed data gathered during a national sampling program undertaken in 2000. Those Danes who were surveyed as part of the program were asked, among other things, how frequently their family members, friends, and neighbors demanded too much of them or seriously worried them. They were also asked how frequently they experienced “conflicts” with those around them.

The researchers compared this data with information from a death registry 11 years later, by which point four percent of the women and six percent of men who took part in the study had died.

“Conflicts with any type of social relation were associated with higher mortality risk, and those who always or often experienced conflicts with their social relations were at markedly higher risk of premature death,” the researchers write. “Generally, adjustment for depressive symptoms and emotional support at baseline only attenuated the associations slightly and did not change the overall conclusions.”

Men who endured worries and demands from their partners were especially likely to die during the study period, the researchers found. But why?

Lund says those in stressful family situations could find it harder to stop smoking, may drink more alcohol, and exercise less frequently than others. She added that “stress has a number of consequences,” both physiological, such as increased levels of blood pressure and higher levels of stress hormones, and psychological, such as depression.

John Upton
John Upton is a science journalist with an ecology background. He has written recently for VICE, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, Grist, and Audubon magazine. He blogs at Wonk on the Wildlife. Upton's favorite eukaryotes are fungi, but he won't fault you for being human. Follow him on Twitter @johnupton.

More From John Upton

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 2 • 4:00 PM

Professors’ Pet Peeves

Ten things to avoid in your classrooms this year.


September 2 • 2:00 PM

Music Lessons Enhance Brain Function in Disadvantaged Kids

Children from poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles who took regular music lessons for two years were able to distinguish similar speech sounds faster than their peers.


September 2 • 12:00 PM

California Passes a Bill to Protect Workers in the Rapidly Growing Temp Staffing Industry

The bill will hold companies accountable for labor abuses by temp agencies and subcontractors they use.


September 2 • 10:00 AM

SWAT Pranks and SWAT Mistakes

The proliferation of risky police raids over the decades.


September 2 • 9:12 AM

Conference Call: The Graphic Novel


September 2 • 8:00 AM

Why We’re Not Holding State Legislators Accountable

The way we vote means that the political fortunes of state legislators hinge on events outside of their state and their control.


September 2 • 7:00 AM

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.


September 2 • 6:00 AM

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

For millions of Christians, biblical counselors have replaced psychologists. Some think it’s time to reverse course.


September 2 • 5:12 AM

No Innovation Without Migration

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.


September 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Middle School Doesn’t Have to Suck

Some people suspect the troubles of middle school are a matter of age. Middle schoolers, they think, are simply too moody, pimply, and cliquish to be easily educable. But these five studies might convince you otherwise.


September 2 • 3:13 AM

Coming Soon: When Robots Lie


September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.