The Relationships between Masculinity Variables, Health Risk Behaviors and Attitudes toward Seeking Psychological Help

By Levant, Ronald F.; Wimer, David J. et al. | International Journal of Men's Health, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

The Relationships between Masculinity Variables, Health Risk Behaviors and Attitudes toward Seeking Psychological Help


Levant, Ronald F., Wimer, David J., Williams, Christine M., Smalley, K. Bryant, Noronha, Delilah, International Journal of Men's Health


The purpose of this study was to directly compare traditional masculinity ideology, conformity to masculine norms, and gender role conflict to determine to what degree these masculinity variables are associated with self-reported risky health behaviors and negative attitudes toward seeking psychological help. Based on correlational analyses of the responses of 137 college men, higher gender role conflict was related to greater risky health behaviors, and higher levels of all three masculinity variables were related to more negative attitudes toward seeking psychological help. Using regression analyses, higher gender role conflict was a unique predictor of greater health risk behaviors, but traditional masculinity ideology was, unexpectedly, inversely associated with risky health behaviors. Conformity to masculine norms was a unique predictor of negative attitudes toward seeking psychological help. The limitations resulting from the overlap of the masculinity measures, the psychometric properties of the health risks measure, and the use of a college sample, as well as implications for practice and suggestions for future research, are discussed.

Keywords: men, traditional masculinity ideology, conformity to masculine norms, gender role conflict, health risk behaviors, attitudes toward seeking psychological help

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Growing concern among healthcare professionals has brought the subject of men's physical and mental health to the forefront of public health discussions (Addis et al., 2007; Baker, 2001; Bonhomme, 2007). It is well established that men in the industrialized world have higher rates of mortality than women. Men in the United States die an average of 5.2 years earlier than women and have higher death rates for all of the leading causes of death (Minino, Heron, Murphy, & Kocharek, 2007). Men are reported to display more antisocial behavior, sexual deviance (Gove, 1978), and substance abuse. They are diagnosed more often with conduct disorders and complete suicide four times as often as women (Centers for Disease Control [CDC], 2004). Men are also less likely to seek out mental health treatment (Addis & Mahalik, 2003), and when they do, may hold expectations which prevent their full utilization of services (Schaub & Williams, 2007).

Findings related to differences in morbidity are somewhat more complicated. An analysis of two British data sets found that the direction and magnitude of sex differences in health varied according to the particular health issue being assessed and according to the stage of the men in the life cycle (Macintyre et al., 1996; see also Wingard et al., 1989). Within the United States, infectious disease, chronic conditions, terminal diseases and unintentional injuries all have higher prevalence rates among men than women (National Center for Health Statistics, 2007). A study based on 14 years of data from the United States National Health Interview Survey suggests that differences in self-assessed health between sexes are explained by differences in the distribution between the sexes of the diagnosed chronic conditions (Case & Paxson, 2005).

The higher mortality rates (and higher morbidity rates, where they are found) may result from men engaging in more risky behaviors and having less healthy lifestyles than women. Courtenay (2000a; 2000b) reviewed the literature and concluded that males engage in over 30 controllable behaviors that increase the risk for disease, injury, and death. Men usually do not see physicians for minor symptoms and tend to wait until their medical conditions become more serious before seeing a healthcare provider (Sayer & Britt, 1996). Furthermore, this avoidance appears to extend to seeing mental health care practitioners as well (Addis & Mahalik, 2003).

Men's higher risk for disease and death may also be related to their poorer engagement in preventive health behaviors. Men visit their physicians less often, and have fewer dental check-ups and fewer mental health visits than do women (CDC, 2004; Corney, 1990; Good, Dell, & Mintz, 1989). …

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