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How Masculinity Can Be Bad For Men's Health

Men drinking beer.
Max Pixel
Max Pixel - Creative Commons
Male attitudes towards their own health may be at the core of the disparity in life expectancy.

Women live longer than men in many countries around the world. In the United States, women outlive men by an average of five years. Scientists have long attributed this divide to genetics and biology, but a physician at Duke University is posing an alternative theory: toxic masculinity. 

Haider Warraich is a clinical researcher and cardiology fellow at Duke University Medical Center who authored a new articlein The Guardian that explores how male attitudes towards their own health may be at the core of the disparity in life expectancy.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Warraich about why men in the U.S. tend to wait longer to seek physical and psychological help. They also discuss how the idea of ‘manly’ behaviors, like drinking and smoking, may lead to lowered health outcomes.


On changes in gender-based life expectancy through history:

In the start of the 18th century women and men lived for about the same duration, which was surprisingly just to the mid 20s ... But then as we got better at making sure that childbirth wasn't a death sentence, and women were actually able to give birth and not die off prematurely, we started to see a gap emerge. We started to see women consistently, across societies, lived longer than men.

On the persistent gap in male to female life expectancy:
That gap in the United States is about five years. In other countries such as Russia it's about 10 years. This is certainly something we have not seen for the expanse of human civilization but certainly something that we now see consistently across most developed societies.

On biological theories that seek to explain why women live longer:
The female sex hormone estrogen conveys some protection as far as reducing the risk of heart disease ... Some have postulated that the fact that women have a faster heart rate in general in some ways or somehow simulates the effect of exercise which is why they're able to live longer. And others have said … The female birth rate is higher. We have more female children than we have male children, which in some ways suggests that even from an almost embryonic stage women have some type of advantage over men. Those are some of the biological theories that have been postulated.

Why biological theories don't paint a full picture of the life expectancy gap:
What we're seeing more and more is that it is male behaviors that are likely driving men dying off earlier than women ... Some of these behaviors just have to do with the fact that men are more likely to take risks than women. Some of that has to do with the fact that the male hormone testosterone drives risk-taking behavior. But a lot of it is a construct of society. Men have a higher rate of smoking pretty much across the world. Men drink more. Men have more road traffic accidents, gunshot wounds et cetera. All of these are things that are driven by male behaviors. Men are less likely to seek the help of a physician if they fall sick. Men who have some type of psychiatric issues such as depression or anxiety, or other things,  are less likely to go see a psychiatrist. 



Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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