More people are breaking up and living alone and the anecdotal evidence that it is worse for men than for women has been affirmed in a longitudinal study from the University of Copenhagen.
The study, which took more than 20 years, has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Researchers used questionnaires and blood test results which had been submitted to the Copenhagen Aging and Midlife Biobank study from 4,835 men and women aged between 48 and 62.
Experiencing two or more break-ups in addition to living alone for over six years increased the risk of high inflammation, defined as chronic tissue irritation, but only in men.
High inflammatory markers in the blood are associated with arteriosclerosis, dementia and increased mortality. An increased risk of cardiovascular disease is linked to a minor, long-term increase in the inflammation protein, CRP, and this was found in the men.
The highest levels of inflammatory markers were found in highly educated men who had been living alone for two to six years and spent seven or more years alone.
The researchers noted that the absence of any effect on women may be partially due to the women’s sample being less than half the size of the men’s sample and that, after a break-up, women tend to internalise, which may result in depression and this may influence inflammation levels.
After a break-up, men are more likely to externalise through behaviour such as drinking.
One solution to the health impacts on men of breaking up is to try to prevent break-ups but not at any cost. Difficult relationships have also been shown to damage health.
In high-income countries, a large proportion of the population lives alone and many of these individuals are doing well because of their social contacts.
Elderly women are far more likely to seek company than elderly men, which may be why women who live alone have more social contact.
However, the risk of loneliness is increased for people who live alone. Loneliness is beginning to be recognised as a health issue and the Danish Parliament presented the first Danish national strategy to tackle loneliness in November of last year.
“We need to consider introducing special initiatives targeted at men who suffer breakups or live alone for a period of years,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Rikke Lund.