Macho men, beware: toxic masculinity can pose a serious risk to your health.
A new study has found that believing hegemonic ideals of masculinity – the belief that "real” red-blooded men must be tough, stoic, and self-reliant – can have a toxic effect on a man’s health and happiness later in life.
The problem is social isolation. As per the research, men that embrace “traditional” ideas of masculinity tend to make less meaningful and reliable relationships with other people, leaving them more lonely and isolated as they get older. In turn, this loneliness can have negative consequences for both mental and physical health.
"Often, toxic masculinity is a term that we use to describe how masculinity affects other people, especially women. But our study shows how toxic masculinity also has detrimental consequences for the men who subscribe to these ideals," study author stef shuster, from Michigan State University, said in a statement.
“The very premise of hegemonic masculinity in some ways is based on the idea of isolation because it's about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion. It's hard to develop friendships living this way."
Reporting in the journal Sex Roles, sociologists from Michigan State University analyzed data on almost 5,500 older women and men from Wisconsin and assessed where they fit on the “toxic masculinity spectrum” using the Hegemonic Masculinity for Older Men Scale. They found that older men who ascribe to the macho ideal of masculinity had significantly lower chances of having any close relationships and of having both friends and family members as confidants.
Although this new research did not specifically look at whether the older men's social isolation was actually linked to further health concerns, a wealth of previous research has shown that loneliness in old age can be damaging to health. One report by the UK government found that prolonged social isolation can increase the chance of mortality by 26 percent. In fact, they compared the health risk of loneliness to smoking cigarettes.
"When we age, there are certain ways that we can ensure we maintain our health and well-being," explained shuster. "Having people with whom we can talk about personal matters is a form of social support. If people only have one person that they can share information with, or sometimes even no people, they don't really have an opportunity to reflect and share."
The researchers suggest that men, especially “baby boomers” as they enter their senior years, could benefit by gaining a deeper understanding of gender roles and learning that masculinity doesn’t have to be all about being a macho man. In a twist of irony though, the study also found that men who hold hegemonic views of masculinity are also less likely to change their views or seek help.