Why is it that men continue to have a shorter life expectancy than women, even though they earn higher wages? Well, one study finds that many men are just too manly for their own good.
The life expectancy of men 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. Acting on the well known fact that men are more likely to neglect their health than women, Kristen Springer, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University in the U.S., led an experiment to determine the role masculinity plays in delaying or avoiding preventive health treatments.
Using the responses of 1,000 middle-aged men to track men’s beliefs about masculinity, she found that men who valued masculine ideals were far more likely to delay or avoid pursuing commonly recommended annual procedures, such as taking a physical, a flu shot and a prostate exam. In fact, men who endorsed masculine ideals were 50 percent less likely to pursue preventive health care than those that don’t.
You’d think it was mainly the less educated and well-off masculine men that were contributing to this statistic, but no! Highly educated men with very strongly held masculinity beliefs were as unlikely to obtain preventive care as men with little education. That is, their beliefs about manliness canceled out the benefits of their education.
Even more surprising is that 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.
According to Springer, the findings suggest masculine men in blue-collar occupations care more about being able to perform their job than any physiological or cultural restrictions masculinity may impose. However, the likelihood that they will obtain preventive healthcare declines significantly as job status increases, providing some insight into the persistent gender paradox regarding the life expectancy of the two sexes.
But it may not be all bad news, as research by Levant and other psychologists has revealed something quite different and intriguing: Some aspects of masculinity might actually protect men’s health. Individuals high in traits that are often considered masculine ideals — self-reliance, emotional maturity, and responsibility — are more likely to visit their physicians and avoid recklessly risky behaviors.
Are you one of those men? If not, try to be like one, because as comedian Russel Peters would say in his hilarious Chinese accent, “Be a man! Do the right thing!” To that we add, be a manly man, because manly men are smart enough to know that there is nothing manly and alluring about an unhealthy and broken man. Just ask the ladies.