Is your manliness getting in the way of your good health? This at least is the conclusion of a new study conducted at Rutgers University and presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting this month. It seems that men who prize masculinity are less likely to get preventive health care. This research may help to explain why men continue to have a shorter life expectancy than women, despite earning higher wages.
Men's life expectancy at birth is five years lower than that of women, and men are more likely to suffer from 12 of the 15 most common causes of death. Kristen Springer, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers, led an experiment to try to determine the role of masculinity in delaying or avoiding preventive health treatments, a substantial contributor to premature deaths from disease. The study used responses of 1,000 middle-aged men who participated in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study in 2004 to track men's beliefs about masculinity along with their socioeconomic status and receipt of preventive health care. Use of preventive health care was measured by tracking rates of pursuing commonly recommended annual procedures (a physical, a flu shot, and a prostate exam). She found that men who valued masculine ideals were far more likely to delay or avoid these procedures.
This was no minor effect. In fact, Springer et al found that men who endorsed masculine ideals were 50 percent less likely to pursue preventive health care. And the negative effect of masculine ideals held true regardless of a host of what one would consider the usual mitigating factors, including prior health, family background, marital status, and even education. In fact, highly educated men with very strongly held masculinity beliefs were as unlikely to obtain preventive care as men with little education. In other words, their beliefs about manliness canceled out the benefits of their education. In an unusual turn of events, some men with relatively little education were more likely to seek preventive care—if they perceived that care as essential to their work, and therefore their continued productivity. "For masculine men in blue-collar occupations, this research suggests that the masculinity threat of seeking health care is less concerning than the masculinity threat of not performing their jobs," Professor Springer said. "However, as job status increases among men who have strong masculinity beliefs, the likelihood that they will obtain preventive healthcare declines significantly. These findings provide some insight into the persistent gender paradox in health whereby men have a lower life expectancy at birth relative to women, despite having higher socioeconomic resources."
As Professor Springer summarizes, "What we found is a strong belief in the stereotypical measures of masculinity—those John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone ideals of what a man should be—is bad for men's health." How can you tell where you fall on this masculinity scale? To reveal their level of masculine idealism, participants rated eight items on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. These statements included the non-gender-neutral, "When a husband and wife make decisions about buying major things for the home, the husband should have final say," and, "It bothers me when a man does something that I consider 'feminine." Try also, "When a man is feeling pain, he should not let it show." And, "A man should always try to project an air of confidence even if he really doesn't feel confident inside." So, do you need to call your doctor and apologize for waiting so long?