The tougher men think they are, the less likely they are to be honest with doctors about their symptoms, according to new research which suggests that this may contribute to men dying earlier than women.
Men are less likely than women to go to the doctor, more likely to choose a male doctor when they do go, but less likely to be honest with that doctor about their symptoms, researchers said.
“The question that we wanted to answer was, why do men die earlier than women? Men can expect to die five years earlier than women, and physiological differences do not explain that difference,” said Diana Sanchez from Rutgers University in the US.
Researchers found that men who held traditional beliefs about masculinity – that men should be tough, brave, self-reliant and restrained in their expression of emotion – were more likely to ignore medical problems, or at least put off dealing with them, than women or men with less traditional beliefs.
They were more likely to choose a male doctor, based on the belief that male doctors were more competent than female doctors. Paradoxically, however, researchers discovered that men, having chosen a male doctor, were less likely to be open with that doctor about their symptoms.
“That is because they do not want to show weakness or dependence to another man, including a male doctor,” said Sanchez.
Men tend to be more honest about their medical symptoms with female doctors to be honest about vulnerabilities causes them no loss of status with women, researchers said.
For the first study, they asked participants – about 250 men – to fill out an online questionnaire designed to elicit their opinions about manhood and relative attributes of men and women. The participants also answered questions about doctor preference.
The higher they scored on the masculinity scale, the more likely participants were to prefer a male to a female doctor. Researchers then recruited 250 male undergraduates at a large university and had them fill out similar questionnaires.
Each subject was interviewed by male and female pre-medical and nursing students about their medical conditions. The interviews took place in clinical examining rooms, and the interviewers wore white coats.
The higher the subjects scored on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to discuss their symptoms frankly with the male interviewers.
In the second study, researchers interviewed 193 students (88 men and 105 women) at a large university in the US and a separate sample of 298 people, half men and half women, from the general population.
They found that men who held strongly traditional opinions about masculinity were less likely to seek medical help, more likely to minimise their symptoms and suffered worse health outcomes than women and men who did not share those opinions. The findings were published in the journals Preventive Medicine and Health Psychology.