Recent research suggests that middle-aged men who strongly idealize masculinity are 50 percent less likely seek preventative healthcare services than their counterparts.
Presented at the 104th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, it was the first population-based analysis of men's masculinity beliefs and preventative healthcare compliance.
"This research strongly suggests that deep-seated masculinity beliefs are one core cause of men's poor health, inasmuch as they reduce compliance with recommended preventative health services," said Kristen W. Springer, the study's primary investigator. Springer is an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, as well as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University.
"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," Springer added.
The researchers said that the findings linking masculine beliefs with avoidance of preventative healthcare did not necessarily apply to men in low-status, stereotypically male jobs.
They said that men with strong masculinity beliefs who were in blue-collar jobs-like machine operators, truck drivers, construction workers and farm workers-were more likely to report obtaining care.
"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. However, as job status increases among men who have strong masculinity beliefs, the likelihood that they will obtain preventative 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," Springer said.
Studies conducted in the past have shown that, compared to women, a man's life expectancy at birth is five years less, and that men have higher rates of 12 of the 15 leading causes of death.
Forgoing or delaying preventative and primary health is known to be an important contributor of poor health among middle-aged and older individuals.
Springer's team found that endorsement of masculine ideals negatively influenced preventative care seeking regardless of a man's prior health, family background, marital status and an array of socioeconomic variables.
Even though education is known to positively impact health behaviours, it was also found to be a moderating factor.
The researchers observed that highly educated men with the strongest-held masculinity beliefs were just as unlikely to obtain preventative care as men with lower levels of education.
They used a sample of 1,000 middle-aged men, drawn from a large-scale study, to review the respondents' masculinity beliefs, socioeconomic status (as measured by education and occupational status) and receipt of three commonly recommended annual healthcare procedures for middle-aged men: a complete exam/physical, flu shot and a prostate examination.
The researchers, however, admit that even though their study represents the first population-based analysis of masculinity and men's preventative healthcare seeking behaviours, it is not without its limits due to the sample's lack of age, race and educational diversity.
Springer stressed the need for further research using samples with greater diversity.