New study suggests that men’s help-seeking behavior makes them live shorter lives than women
Advances in medical technology and practice theory have led to a notable increase in the average life expectancy for individuals around the world, now at 76 for men and 81 for women in the United States. While the updated averages are promising, the five-year gap between men and women continues to bewilder. Some chock the difference up to a tendency for men to take on more risk throughout a lifetime, while others point to the male population having a greater likelihood of contracting a life threatening disease. It has been questioned, however, if there are other contributing factors in the longevity gap.
Diana Sanchez, associate professor of psychology and Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral student, both of Rutgers University, sought an answer to the question surrounding why men live shorter lives than women. In March of 2016, Rutgers University published research for both Preventive Medicine and The Journal of Health Psychology conducted by Sanchez and Himmelstein that unveiled a potential reason behind the pressing inquiry. The research revealed the following consistent data:
- Men are less likely to go to the doctor compared to women
- Men are more likely to select a male doctor when they do go
- Men are less likely to fully disclose their medical symptoms with a male doctor
Parameters of the Research
The study for Preventive Medicine surveyed 250 male participants in an online questionnaire aimed at gathering responses to questions about manhood, generally accepted attributes of men and women, and doctor preference. The results showed that the higher respondents scored on the masculinity scale, the more likely they were to have a preference for a male doctor over a female. Researchers also asked 250 undergraduate men to complete a questionnaire with a similar focus. Each respondent was then interviewed by male and female pre-med and nursing students about current medical conditions. The results tell a similar story: the higher the respondents scored on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to share their medical symptoms openly with male interviewers.
Similar data was gathered from the student published in The Journal for Health Psychology, with survey responses and interviews elicited from undergraduate students as well as the public at large. Men who believed in more traditional gender norms associated with masculinity were less likely to seek the help of a medical professional, and less likely to share opening regarding symptoms. Not surprisingly, the women respondents who identified the need to be brave and self-reliant were also less likely to seek out medical treatment and more likely to withhold information relevant to current symptoms.
Consequences of Traditional Masculine Views
Sanchez and Himmelstein believe that a long-lived cultural script plays a significant role in why men downplay medical issues or illness. Instead of feeling comfortable speaking with medical professionals and potentially beginning a course of treatment, men are more likely to be less forthcoming and thus, less healthy. More so, both the men and women who followed a path more closely linked to traditional masculinity ideals noted suffering health outcomes not plaguing respondents without those views.
Representatives from a medical solicitors firm explain that the lack of communication from male patients to their healthcare providers presents another potential pitfall in receiving appropriate care. The chance of medical mistakes taking place during treatment of illnesses increases substantially when patients do not feel comfortable sharing the actual symptoms or issues they are experiencing. Miscommunication in these situations runs deep, affecting information passed from staff to staff, staff to patient, or patient to staff. As medical mistakes are left unrecognized or untreated, patients feel increasing discomfort in sharing new or changing symptoms for fear of sounding disrespectful or less than educated. Under these circumstances, the cycle of poor health – and ultimately a shorter life span – continues.
The studies conducted by Sanchez and Himmelstein point to a clear correlation between a reduced longevity in men and the overarching male psyche. Believing that, as a man, one should be able to tough out sickness or medical conditions that surface over time is detrimental to one’s health and ultimately the length and quality of life. Despite the average life expectancy steadily increasing over the years, traditional opinions surrounding masculinity and femininity play a role in maintaining the five-year longevity gap between men and women.