Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Rethinking Gender and Health: Some Insights from the Italian Experience

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Rethinking Gender and Health: Some Insights from the Italian Experience

Article excerpt

In Italy gender-based health studies and policies focus on women, since it is widely assumed that the socio-economical inequalities that privilege men also favour men's health. The present article, which is the first part of two-linked papers, fills a gap in knowledge by examining how Italian men manage their unique health challenges compared to women, all the while navigating a "familistic" welfare system. A critical analysis of secondary data allows for debunking some myths on gender and health in Italy: it shows the lack of gender-specific studies on men's health that take into account socio-cultural factors, as well as significant male disadvantage in terms of health. The men-women divide concerning health appears to be greater in Italy than in Europe, thus pointing to the important role played by socio-cultural factors, such as familism. Information gaps and topics requiring focus are identified, in order to pave the way for Italian policy-making relative to men's health.

Keywords: health outcomes, gender, masculinity, Italy, welfare


This article, which is the first part of two-linked papers, is a preliminary contribution toward a systematic analysis of gender and health within the context of contemporary welfare systems. It aims at setting out critically, in the light of statistical data and recent literature on the topic, the ideas at the basis of the common thinking on gender and health, namely man's centeredness in clinical research and female disadvantage concerning health matters. In this perspective, Italy is a quite interesting country to study, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, compared to countries with a similar per capita income, Italy represents an extreme case of low participation of women in the workforce, low fertility, and dependence on work or marriage for access to welfare benefits. All these determine significant problems of "gender equity," i.e., a misallocation of resources between men and women (Addis, 2000, p. 128), and reflect the dominant patriarchal values of Italian culture, basically considered "masculine" (Tixier, 1996, p. 24; Hofstede, 1998, p. 81), and of the Italian "familistic" welfare system.

Secondly, while in Anglo-Saxon countries a number of studies have explored the many-faceted relations between gender, health and the welfare state; in Italy, despite the work of a few individual scholars (Addis, 2000; Facchini & Ruspini, 2001; Ingrosso, 1994) the issue is "institutionally invisible," due to its exclusion from academic research (Lombardi, 2005, p. 46). In addition, while in Anglo-Saxon countries numerous analyses of men's health at the nation level add to a rich literature that "engender" men in different times and places; in Italy, not only men's health, but also masculinities have been neglected for a long time as a field of study, revealing a certain reluctance on the part of academics to turn the perspective of gender onto itself, as emerged from the seminal work, Genere by Piccone-Stella and Saraceno (1996)) Furthermore, in terms of policy, Italy belongs to the group of established EU-members that have developed gender equality apparatuses but with limited specific emphasis on men (Hearn et al., 2001, p. 9) and, in health regards, only governmental programmes and initiatives on the protection of women exist.

The present article fills this gap in knowledge by analyzing gender specific differences in health conditions and outcomes in Italy, on the basis of empirical investigations and official statistics. It is articulated in six sections.

In the first, the specific Italian context is highlighted, focusing on cultural and institutional aspects. In the second section, methodological choices and data collection criteria are illustrated. Thirdly, the state of the art thinking on gender and health in Italy is reviewed, highlighting the main issues addressed in public debate. In the fourth section, the ideas underlying public debate are identified, while in the fifth the arguments provided in support of these ideas are set out critically, drawing on empirical investigations and statistical data. …

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