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Sexism Could Harm Men's Health: Study

MONDAY, Nov. 21, 2016 -- Men who have "playboy" attitudes and believe in power over women may face a higher risk for mental health trouble than men who don't, a broad new research review suggests.

The finding on sexism, and other so-called "traditional views" on masculinity, stems from an analysis of 74 studies conducted between 2003 and 2013. The studies included nearly 19,500 predominantly white male participants, the researchers said.

The research "looked at expectations about what it means to be masculine, and how that relates to mental health outcomes among men," explained study lead author Y. Joel Wong.

"What we found overall is that the more that men conformed to masculine norms the poorer their mental health, and the less likely they were to seek mental health services," he said. Wong is associate professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University Bloomington

Wong's team published the findings in the Nov. 21 online issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Most of the studies involved white males, ranging in age from preteens to seniors over 65.

Wong's team focused on data concerning the embrace of 11 different types of so-called "masculine norms," including the desire to win; to retain emotional control; to take risks; to engage in violence; to exert dominant behavior; to participate in a "playboy" lifestyle; to be self-reliant; to elevate work to the highest level of importance; to retain power over women; to maintain a disdain for homosexuals; and to pursue "status."

In turn, an embrace of such norms was stacked up against the risk for developing a range of mental health issues, including depression, stress, body image trouble, and/or difficulty socializing with others.

In the end, the researchers found that men who adhere to masculine norms are generally in a worse state of mental health, and less motivated to seek psychological help. Key demographic factors, such as race, age and sexual orientation, were not found to have any bearing on the overall finding.

However, digging deeper, the team noted that educational background varied between studies, with a stronger association between the favoring of masculine norms and mental health problems seen among adults who lacked a college education.

What's more, the analysis revealed, only four of the masculine norms were actually "significantly" associated with poor mental health. Those included a preference for retaining emotional control, promiscuous playboy behavior, self-reliance, and power over women.

Of those, self-reliance was the trait most strongly associated with worse psychological outcomes.

On the other hand, while risk-taking was associated with poorer mental health, it was also "significantly" linked to better overall mental health.

Wong also observed that conforming to masculine norms was more likely to be associated with being lonely, hostile or having problems socializing than it was to a risk for depression.

The study team cautioned that what they observed was associations, rather than direct cause-and-effect between adherence to masculine norms and poor psychological well-being.

And, Wong stressed, "the findings don't allow us to answer the question as to why."

He did have theories, however. "I would say that it could be that these norms are increasingly being rejected and thought of as outdated, which means some men might get pushback by people who are uncomfortable with these norms," he said.

"For example, if you were maybe sexually promiscuous in the past, your partner might have just tolerated that. But today you might get pushback. So it could be much more stressful for a playboy today than it would've been in the past," Wong said.

More information

There's more on men and mental health at U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Posted: November 2016


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