Men Seeking Health
Work and family concerns shape a man’s health concerns.
Posted Sep 16, 2015
Why do men tend to lead shorter lives than women? An evolutionary perspective points to sex-specific life history allocations, by which men’s lives are cut short by prioritizing mating effort over maintenance. In other words, it paid more among male ancestors to bulk up and short change immune responses if these were rewarded with reproductive success.
But there’s more to the story than this.
Another reason is that men tend to less often utilize health care services than women. If men don’t practice preventive care, those health conditions have progressed further before they garner medical treatment. Men practice risky behaviors that may seem to offer short-term behavioral management or psychological reward but at expense to later illness or death.
A recent qualitative study conducted by Shedra Snipes and colleagues sheds interesting light on the perceived roles of men’s work and family on these men’s health-related behaviors. The study involved interviews and focus groups with a sample of 47 healthy, employed men 22-62 years of age (average of 42 years) in Washington state.
What did men’s views suggest about the links between masculinity, work, family and their health?
One theme was that men’s work and provisioning motivated their health-related behaviors. Indeed, “the biggest family incentives to health for men were children and their wives/partners.” Men viewed providing for family as a major commitment and source of their manhood, and wanted to maintain the health that would allow them to continue to shoulder those weights. Family members also encouraged men to consider their diets and physical activity plus use of health care service. And when men reported seeking health information, that was typically from their wives/partners or other family members.
Yet in the course of seeking to provide for their families and work, men faced negative impacts on their health. They discussed the struggles of trying to find enough time for work and home life. Exercise could be a victim of not having enough hours in the day. The self-sacrifice also led men to de-prioritize health, even if facing work and overall time stressors, in part because of the inconvenience of accessing care (more time required for a doctor’s visit when time was already in short supply).
So where does this leave us? This small qualitative study contributes to a discussion about the ways that men’s work and family lives have both beneficial and deleterious effects on men’s health. Masculinity can be bad for your health, but the pursuit of masculine ideals can also have some upsides. Yes, you can castrate yourself to live longer (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-evolving-father/201209/castrate...), but you can also seek support from family to try living a healthier life. Maybe you won’t have enough hours in the day to play with your kids and maintain those 6-pack abs, but at least some others may appreciate the sacrifices that helped shape that “dad bod.”
Snipes, S. A., Constant, T. K. H., Trumble, B. C., Goodreau, S. M., Morrison, D. M., Shell-Duncan, B. K., & O'Connor, K. A. (2015). Masculine Perspectives about Work and Family Concurrently Promote and Inhibit Men's Healthy Behaviors. International Journal of Men's Health, 14(1), 1.