Medical data shows that women get sicker than men, but men are the ones with a higher mortality rate. Many explanations have been put forward for this phenomenon and the latest one suggests that men who are better at enduring maladies are more likely to find a partner.
The study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Medicine, links male “stoicism” in the face of illness to female mate choice. If a man appears to be better at dealing with being sick, he appears more attractive to potential partners. If you tend to lay around feeling sorry for yourself at the first sign of “man flu”, then it might be bad news for you. It's just not an appealing trait.
The research team found that when looking for long-term partners, women prefer men who are stoic over more conventionally attractive but less stoic men. The reverse is true for short-term relationships. The scientists suggest that stoicism could be a good thing to look for in a mate because it is better for cooperative breeding. These men would be able to provide more for the family without becoming a burden. You don’t want to be stuck with a man that can’t take care of himself.
The study's participants comprised 86 women and 23 men from a mixture of traditional and non-traditional student backgrounds and were ethnically diverse. Each participant was shown images of people and a vignette that included their major, what kind of sport they were into, and a story about how stoic they were. Some of these summaries described them going to work with a cold or a headache. Others detailed how they might be a bit off sometimes but they never catch a cold or the flu. Another story was that the man in question was able to ignore the vog, the volcanic air pollution that can be found in Hawaii, where the study was conducted.
Meanwhile, some of the vignettes were the other way round. They admitted candidly that a cold, a headache, or the vog affected them. In this case, being upfront about your struggles doesn’t pay off. This finding, if confirmed, provides another explanation for why men tend to be bad at understanding their health. Not wanting to appear weak might have come from the desire to find a mate and then been perpetuated by societal expectations.
Another thing tested in the study was status. The authors describe all the male participants as “being on the honor roll, being accepted into graduate training, participating in a sport, and keeping fit.” Differences in “status” were artificially created using clothing cues, and either consciously or unconsciously women picked the men they thought would provide them with greater resources.
So, if you're not of high status, try being stoic next time you get the flu.