Study: Female family members the most difficult people in our lives — But for good reason

BERKELEY, Calif. — Tired of your mother or sister prying into your personal life? You’re not alone. While the women in our lives often prove to be the most caring and helpful in times of need, a new study finds that female family members also tend to be the most difficult.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Bar-Ilan University in Israel used surveys focusing on the relationships of more than 1,100 adults young and old from the San Francisco Bay Area. Of the 12,000-some personal relationships — including close and casual friends, family members, or colleagues — described in their responses, the research team honed in on individuals whom the respondents flagged as people they “sometimes find demanding or difficult.”

Woman shaking her finger angrily
While the women in our lives often prove to be the most caring and helpful in times of need, a new study finds that female family members also tend to be the most difficult.

While about 15 percent of relationships were dubbed as difficult, the authors found that close female relatives — mothers, sisters, and wives — led the way in that category. It’s very likely, however, that women ranked more prominently because they tend to be the ones who involve themselves more deeply in a person’s life, while men tend to be more passive.

“The message here is that, with female relatives, it can be a two-sided thing. They may be the people you most depend on, but also the people who nag you the most,” says study senior author Claude Fischer, a sociology professor at Berkeley, in a news release. “It’s a testament to their deeper engagement in social ties.”

Generally speaking, parents, siblings and spouses were named most frequently as difficult individuals. As for who was the least frustrating, participants agreed that friends led the pack, only representing about 7 percent of the bothersome bunch.

In the survey, respondents were asked to categorize strained relationships as “difficult only,” or “difficult engaged in exchange ties,” which would represent people who they found difficult, but still someone they could confide in or turn to for support when in need. Younger adults tended to have twice as many “difficult engaged” relationships than older adults, with sisters being listed most frequently in that category (30 percent) followed by wives (27 percent) and mothers (24 percent).

Fathers, brothers, boyfriends, and roommates rounded out the rest of the list.

When it came to adults over 50, the most demanding relationships were with mothers (29 percent), female romantic partners (28 percent), and fathers and housemates (tied at 24 percent).

“The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates,” says lead author Shira Offer, a professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan.

Coworkers also proved to be among the more frequent folks who respondents had beef with, with about 1 in 10 listing colleagues as the “difficult only” type.

So why do we still keep around those who stress us out the most? Well, sometimes we simply have no choice.

“Whether it’s an alcoholic father whom you want to cut ties with, an annoying friend with whom you have a long history or an overbearing boss, relationships are complicated and in many cases unavoidable,” says Fischer.

The study’s findings were published in the journal American Sociological Review.


  1. If they didn’t have that ‘thing’ between their legs, there would be a bounty on them and we would be hunting them down like dogs!

    1. …and ironically, import en masse the very people who want to assault them (and worse), throw them into burqas and behead them if they show their ankles in public.

  2. I do not understand. I thought there was no difference between men and women. Are they trying to tell me that women act differently than men?

  3. My understanding: studies have shown the men often organize themselves into hierarchical structures quite naturally.

    Women, on the other hand, view the relationship landscape as flat. They see nobody ‘out ranking’ them for whom they need to pay deference (generally speaking of course). So this leads to conflict (probably is good for their ability to stand up to overbearing men though).

    My own mother despite claiming she would NEVER do this, meddles and creates strife in all of her adult son’s life (including mine because she doesn’t like my wife and hates us for moving far away).

    1. “Your tax dollars at work!” is usually best translated as “Your tax dollars wasted!” when the word “social” appears anywhere in the abstract of government funded research results.

  4. Culture, country of origin and country one resides in seem to have missed the variables boat with respect to factors calculated.
    My mother was raised Irish Catholic and has a way of using guilt as a weapon. My friends Nigerian mom is more relaxed in his day to day affairs, but harder in other areas.
    An interesting study, but I feel it only scratches the surface. I will be interested to see if anything has changed in future studies.

  5. Thinking back, I think my mother was a remarkable woman. During WWII, she saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. She didn’t start driving until 1946.

  6. Did we include political party? Democrats are way far more demanding, even though they never get what they want!

  7. The only female in my family that I try my best to avoid is my Liberal sister. She can’t seem to help trying to control my decisions, ask me personal questions that are none of her business, make me feel guilty for not communicating with her more, and considers me less informed about the world because I’m Conservative. I can’t stand her, although I do love her.

  8. If I punch a baby for it’s own good, no matter how hard I justify it, people would call me a baby puncher in a derogatory way. Life is hard, and maybe a 3 month old needs to learn that. Someday that baby will thank me.

    Obviously, I’m joking about punching babies, but I question if the reason women are difficult is for the best intentions. Men who have hard parasitic girlfriends or have been divorced rape realize most women see men as utilities. I still hear and read men saying crap along the lines of ‘a happy wife for a happy life”

    Women today do not have an equivalent mindset. Men are supposed to spend all their resources pleasing women and expect nothing in return. Women want idiotic romance novel men who cater to women and never expect anything in return. Most women don’t want, and can’t handle, a partnership where women have to be an equal partner, they want a second father.

    The selfishness and pettiness of women would obviously infest female family members, because women don’t want men to be happy. When women are unhappy they want everyone to be happy. Women destroy happiness and expect men to be thankful. And sadly most men are hardwired to be beta servants.

    1. Marry well or consider a non-white woman. White women have been programmed from childhood to have a chip on their shoulders (by well meaning, yet juvenile fathers). Listen to “if you’re not ticked off you should be…” for 20 years and you’ll probably be angry too.

      Best off to avoid the ones who are going to ‘change the world’ of gender interactions.

    2. I absolutely agree. The vast majority of a woman’s conversation with a husband or boyfriend will be about ‘me, myself and I’. I also have found, over the years, that no matter what your field of expertise, how adept you are at tasks at home, it’s never as “good as it could be”.

      My wife thinks she is an expert on everything. I am the chief training officer for a large city fire department and in that context, write tactical fire scenarios for promotional exams for the ranks of Lt, Captain, Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief. Each scenario requires extensive knowledge of placement of apparatus, equipment, firefighters and exercising of safety protocols.
      One evening, as I was finishing up a rather complicated exercise, my wife decided that a number of movements I was coming up with, were completely incorrect. She actually believed that she had as much knowledge as I did about fireground tactics. I thought it was funny and at the same time, realized that if I injected myself into one of her work projects, she would be highly offended that I made suggestions.

  9. Well, looking on the bright side of living around my extremely irritable, mean, grouchy, gruff and nasty husband, “Mr. Blamerman,” Hell will be a piece of cake after 29 years of living with his moodiness. But hey, THAT is probably my fault, too, because I have a vagina. This can work both ways and there are some sweet, wonderful, loving women out there who get treated like trash. Just remember that nice men tend NOT to be attracted to nice women.

    1. “Just remember that nice men tend NOT to be attracted to nice women.” Wrong, wrong, wrong!! I am an attractive, nice woman, and my husband is an attractive nice man. We’ve been together for 21 years and couldn’t be happier.

  10. A man gets things done by doing them himself. A woman gets things done by telling the nearest man to do it. The difference is a woman takes credit for all of it.

  11. Dennis Prager’s rule of thumb on studies make sense: A “Study” by the experts either confirms common sense–or it is wrong.

    So…someone FUNDED a study to which everyone who can fog a mirror already knows the answer?

  12. They are throwing out a lot of verbiage as if it is ‘truth’ such as the third sentence : “While the women in our lives often prove to be the most caring and helpful in times of need…” I call BS on that! and all of the so called other attributes of the modern day woman. They are all ‘manipulators’ first and foremost and if their actions seem helpful… that is second or third on the list!

  13. Men and women are simply different. Men are fm Mars and women fm Venus.

    Successful relationships involve give and take and learning how to forge consensus in the house. That’s work! Entertainment makes it all fun and games of sturm und drang.

  14. Update: we got paid to tell people what they already know.

    Update: creators of the study apologize for being sexist to feminists.

    Update: creators of the study apologize for being trans-phobic and assuming that transgendered females or non-binaries are not included into this study.

    Update: creators of the study apologize for saying that women are difficult for a good reason. This upsets the transitioning females to males on where they fit in the study

    Update: creators of the study apologize for using gender inclusive pronouns that exclude certain groups that no one really knows about.

  15. I wonder why they didn’t tell us what the stats were for when they asked men vs when they asked women?

    1. With the men, it was usually a woman who they said was the most difficult person in their lives. With the women, it was usually a woman who they said was the most difficult person in their lives. The difference is that with the women, the woman who they said was the most difficult person in their lives was often themselves.

      1. You know, that’s a very good point.
        Women have very high expectations for themselves where as men would simply sit around drinking and doing nothing unless they were motivated to please a woman who held high expectations for them.
        Perhaps that explains the high numbers of women completing college degrees vs men who are falling behind.
        Perhaps men should start having higher expectations for their fathers, sons, brothers, and friends.

        1. And what degrees do the women complete? They’re often MRS. degrees, in majors such as women’s studies or psychology and thus aren’t very marketable. This, do note, is one of the major causes of the male-female wage gap: Statistically, men are more likely to enter highly lucrative fields.

          Also know that our country is creating college graduates at a faster rate than its creating jobs requiring a college degree (this phenomenon has been evident for years). This is partially because schooling has been dumbed down, with college today the equivalent of only a 1947 high-school diploma. Thus, people who years ago wouldn’t have attended college do so today. This doesn’t change the reality of the job market or their actual skills, however.

          If women actual knew what expectations should be, they either wouldn’t attend the leftist propaganda mills known as “colleges” and end up in debt with useless degrees, or they’d actually major in something useful.

  16. As a long long time married man with Five(Yes Five) daughters I can attest to this article. I now have just Granddaughters & no Grandsons. All I can figure is I am serving a penitence here on earth for something I must have done. We had dogs and cats during the entire time all those girls were still at home. Yes, all female animal pets. We had some goldfish as well and I assume they were female as well. I have to admit I enjoyed flushing many of those fish, right after I got back from the Pet shop after buying one to replace the dead one before the girls knew one died.
    The only thing I got to control was my(our) livestock which required some Bulls, Boar Hogs and Roosters to keep the farm working. I did finally get to have a male Dog of my own but my wife even turned him into a Wussy!

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