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11 August 2009
Masculinity beliefs impacting men's health
by George Atkinson

Men that are middle-aged and who strongly idealize masculinity are almost 50 percent less likely than other men to seek healthcare services, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"This research strongly suggests that deep-seated masculinity beliefs are one core cause of men's poor health, in as much as they reduce compliance with recommended preventative health services," said Kristen W. Springer, the study's primary researcher.

Interestingly, men in low-status, stereotypically male jobs are the exception to the study's findings linking masculine beliefs with avoidance of preventative healthcare. Men with strong masculinity beliefs who are in blue-collar jobs were actually more likely to report obtaining care. "Although previous research points to the health-promoting effects of higher socio-economic status, in the case of the most masculine men - those who most strongly endorse ideals of 'old school' masculinity - increases in job status actually have a detrimental effect on preventative healthcare seeking," noted Springer.

The 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. Previous research indicates that, compared to women, a man's life expectancy at birth is five years less. Forgoing, or delaying, preventative health is known to be an important contributor of poor health among middle-aged and older individuals.

The study also noted that education - despite its well-established beneficial effect on health behaviors - also was a moderating factor. Highly educated men with the strongest-held masculinity beliefs were just as unlikely to obtain preventative care as men with lower levels of education.

Springer cautioned that although the research represents the first population-based analysis of masculinity and men's healthcare seeking behaviors, it is not without its limits due to the sample's lack of age, race and educational diversity (the study respondents were white, middle-aged and had at least a high school degree). She concluded by emphasizing the need for more research using samples with greater diversity.

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Source: American Sociological Association

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