When Masculinity Is Unhealthy

By , April 20, 2011 11:54 pm

Did you hear that doctors have found a health risk for men? It’s called “Masculinity.”

That’s what Boston College professor of psychology James Mahalik told Massachusetts State legislators late last month:

Everything from seatbelt use to alcohol use, smoking, sunscreen use, cardiovascular exercise. Men were worse than women in every category of health behavior except weightlifting…Men may view health risk behaviors as masculine. The very way in which society may present masculinity may, in and of its definition, include taking health risks. We can think of the Marlboro man as a very stoic, masculine kind of guy.

This lifestyle, according to Mahalik, leads to men dying an average of 5.4 years younger than women.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Health And Social Behavior just published the study “‘Macho Men’ and Preventive Health Care: Implications for Older Men in Different Social Classes” that showed macho is stronger than money when it comes to seeking healthcare.

The results show that men with strong masculinity beliefs are half as likely as men with more moderate masculinity beliefs to receive preventive care. Furthermore, in contrast to the well-established SES [socioeconomic status] gradient in health, men with strong masculinity beliefs do not benefit from higher education and their probability of obtaining preventive health care decreases as their occupational status, wealth, and/or income increases. Masculinity may be a partial explanation for the paradox of men’s lower life expectancy, despite their higher SES.

A couple more stats: Men’s Health magazine reported that only 67% of men in their 30′s said they visited a primary care doctor in the last year. According to the 2011 Esquire Health Survey, 45% of men polled didn’t have a primary care physician.

Something is clearly wrong if nearly half of men don’t have a regular doctor. What’s wrong is they’re probably not going to any doctor, not just a primary care doctor.

While masculinity itself isn’t unhealthy, as Dr. Mahalik said, “The very way in which society may present masculinity may, in and of its definition, include taking health risks.”

I’m looking at you, Man Box.

Telling someone about something that hurts – even a doctor – could be considered complaining to some guys trapped in the confines of uber-macho masculinity. Refraining from risky behavior probably isn’t macho to them either. If they’re cautious or complaining, they’re being weak. In their mind, it’s better to “walk it off” and be a risk-taker.

Allowing machismo to compromise health isn’t being a man. As the Men’s Health article said: “To be manly is to live well.”

Read more:
Boston Herald
Men’s Health
Esquire Health Survey

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