Neuroticism, Gender & Geography: What’s the Link?

Explore the factors that may make you prone to a neurotic personality (not that you should worry about it!).

| February 16th, 2012
Neuroticism, Gender & Geography: What’s the Link?

Quick, think of a neurotic person. Did Woody Allen pop into your head?

Neuroticism isn’t just a trait reserved for middle-aged male New Yorkers who thrive on hypochondria and over-analysis. (Though New Yorkers are “more high-strung and creative” than the rest of the country.)

QUIZ: How Neurotic Are You?

But as far as the gender stereotype goes, females actually win (er, lose?) this one. Women report feeling more stressed and tend to be more neurotic than men.

“There’s a persistent gender difference in the way women express stress and anxiety. Women are far more likely to ruminate about stressful situations and internalize,” says YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D.

Repeatedly mulling over your worries is a feature of a neuroticism, which lies opposite “emotionally stable” on the personality spectrum. Being neurotic puts you at risk for anxiety and depression.

There is a genetic component, but we’re not fated to be neurotic from birth—there are other factors that play a role.

MORE: Experience Influences Anxiety More Than Genetics 

Ladies: Neuroticism decreases with age

As women get older, neuroticism tends to decline, a drop that one study showed continued fairly consistently from age 21-60.

“The trajectories suggest that part of the reason there is a big decline is that there is such a huge rise during the teens. So some of that decline is probably escaping the forces that make it so high,” co-author and personality researcher Sam Gosling, Ph.D., says. “There are corresponding changes in self-esteem during this time,” he notes.

Along with a boost in self-esteem with age, women may develop better tools for coping with stress as they gain life experience.

QUIZ: How’s Your Self-Esteem?

“Adolescence and early adulthood are difficult times for many women. As they figure out what sort of adult life they want to lead, and get some practice at balancing the complex social-role demands that often result, they become more emotionally resilient and less vulnerable to anxiety and depression,” surmises Chris Soto, Ph.D., co-author and professor of psychology at Colby College.

Any given working gal may be a lover, a mother and at a certain age, a caregiver to her parents. Women must learn to balance the important relationships in their personal and professional lives. If you’re at your limit, take solace in the fact that your anxiety may lessen as you gain experience navigating these roles. Self-soothing techniques, like breathing exercises, can get you there more quickly. So can learning when to put you first.

MORE: Tips for Quelling Anxiety

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