Taking a Closer Look at That 'Arguing Leads to Early Death' Study

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According to a Danish study published yesterday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Healthmiddle-aged people who argue with their loved ones are 50-to-100 percent more likely to die prematurely than their non-confrontational counterparts. At least, that's how the study is being spun, but don't bite your tongue the next time a family member insults your cooking. 

The study, which was attempting to find the relationships between "stressful social relations" and mortality, found that "frequent worries/demands from partner or children were associated with 50–100% increased mortality risk," adding: 

Frequent conflicts with any type of social relation were associated with 2–3 times increased mortality risk. Interaction between labor force participation and worries/demands (462 additional cases per 100 000 person-years, p=0.05) and conflicts with partner (830 additional cases per 100 000 person-years, p<0.01) was suggested. Being male and experiencing frequent worries/demands from partner produced 135 extra cases per 100 000 person-years, p=0.05 due to interaction.

The researchers looked at nearly 10,000 adult men and women from 2000 to 2011. Of these, 196 women (4 percent) and 226 men (6 percent) died. Nearly half of them died of cancer, and the other half were killed by heart disease, stroke, liver disease, accidents and suicide. Which are all very real things that will kill you and are almost never caused by arguing (with the possible exception of suicide, and heart disease, which has been linked to anxiety and stress previously, but not to arguing, per se.) 

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Also, there's no reason to believe that a positive correlation between arguments and death would inversely mean that fewer arguments will make you less likely to die of any of these causes, which sort of lowers the utility of the study. 

And third, unemployment is listed as a factor exacerbating the likelihood of argument-related death, per the BBC

Being out of work seemed to increase the negative impact of stressful social relationships. Those who were unemployed were at significantly greater risk of death from any cause than those who had a job, the study said.

Which is a notable caveat, because unemployment can be tied to poor health in any number of other ways.

Finally, the study doesn't actually go into why arguments are linked to early death. If this study is saying that heightened levels of personal stress are linked to arguments which are linked to earlier mortality rates, that seems valid. But that's also not a new theory, and one that has been explored in a less-specific way. Professor Angela Clow at the department of psychology and physiology at the University of Westminster told the BBC that the findings don't surprise her, and that "It would have been more interesting if they had looked at the biological pathways and shown why or how conflicts had an effect on mortality risk."

So there's nothing wrong with trying to manage your stress levels to lead a healthier life. But don't bottle up those feelings, is all we're saying.

Image by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.