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Traditional Masculinity Ideals Influence Health Care Decisions

Although men typically earn more money than women, giving them access to better health services, they don't necessarily live longer, healthier lives. Sociologist Kristen Springer wondered how men's concept of masculinity impacts their health care decisions. In a survey, she says, "We had asked men…how strongly they agree with statements such as, 'When a man is feeling pain, he should not let it show.'"

Springer says the survey found that men with these strong masculinity ideals were fifty percent less likely to get all of these preventive services.

Importance of preventive care

The Rutgers University professor stresses that the annual medical services she asked participants about - prostate exams, general physical exams, and flu shots - are especially important for men as they get older.

"Preventive care is critically important for mid life and upper age men," Springer explains, "because men die five years earlier than women do and they're less likely to get these preventive health care services that they need. So it's one of the most important factors for these men to stay healthy and to live longer."

Extending findings to other cultures

Springer acknowledges that the sample group of men from the Midwestern state of Wisconsin lacks diversity. "The Wisconsin longitudinal study is primarily white. These are men who are 65 years old… They were from Wisconsin. So it certainly has its limitations in that sense."

Still, she thinks her findings are applicable to other cultures. "Based on the literature," says Springer, "I would expect that these results should hold in other contexts, so long as this idea of masculinity is being invulnerable and not showing weakness, and [that] going to the doctor is a sign of weakness."

Springer thinks this "macho" vision of how tough a man should be needs to be changed. "To the degree that we can undermine the ideas of masculinity as strong and invulnerable, we can help get men to go to the doctor and be healthier."

Springer presented her study at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Society in San Francisco.