“Why do men die earlier than women?” wondered Diana Sanchez, associate professor of psychology, from Rutgers University in New Jersey. “Men can expect to die 5 years earlier than women, and physiological differences don’t explain that difference.”
Could it be that men are less likely to go to the doctor?
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that life expectancy in the US had reached a record high. Still, men’s life expectancy was only 76.4 years – 4.8 years less than women’s life expectancy, which was 81.2 years.
Sanchez and doctoral student Mary Himmelstein conducted research into why there is this discrepancy between men’s and women’s health. They publish their latest study in the journal Preventive Medicine.
For their research, they had about 250 participants fill out an online questionnaire that assessed their opinions about manhood and “attributes” of men and women. The questionnaire also included questions about doctor preference.
Results showed that men who had “traditional beliefs” about masculinity were more likely to put off dealing with medical problems, compared with women or men with less traditional beliefs.
“Traditional masculine beliefs” included those that men should be “tough, brave, self-reliant and restrained in their expression of emotion.”
In another part of the study, the researchers recruited 250 male undergraduates at a large public university who also filled out similar questionnaires.
The team then had male and female pre-medical and nursing students interview each subject regarding their medical conditions. Not only did the interviews take place in clinical examination rooms, but also the interviewers wore white coats.
Sanchez and Himmelstein found that the higher the men scored on the masculinity scale, the more likely they were to choose a male “doctor.”
Interestingly, the men who chose a male doctor, however, were less likely to be open with that doctor about their health symptoms.
“That’s because they don’t want to show weakness or dependence to another man, including a male doctor,” says Sanchez. The men who chose female doctors were more likely to be honest with them, and Sanchez theorizes this is because being honest about their vulnerabilities does not cause them to “lose status” with women.
In a previous study published in The Journal of Health Psychology in 2014, Himmelstein and Sanchez interviewed nearly 200 students from a public university and nearly 300 people from the general population.
Both study samples consisted of both men and women. After interviewing the participants, the team found that – as expected – men with traditional masculinity beliefs were less likely to seek medical help and experienced worse health outcomes than men and women who did not share those beliefs.
Interestingly, however, women who believed they should be “brave and self-reliant” were also less likely to seek medical help and were less likely to be honest with their doctors, compared with women who did not have the same values.
The researchers concluded the study by noting that, regardless of gender, “masculine contingencies of self-worth have downstream consequences for men and women through barriers to help seeking.”
Himmelstein notes, however, that it is “worse for men,” adding:
”Men have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant and tough. Women don’t have that script, so there isn’t any cultural message telling them that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms.”
In other recent psychology news, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested high standards could make or break a marriage.