Likely They Are to Be Honest with Doctors
Men, who die on average five years earlier than women, prefer male doctors, but are more honest with female doctors
By Ken Branson Rutgers Today
“The question that we wanted to answer was, why do men die earlier than women?” said Diana Sanchez, associate professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences. “Men can expect to die five years earlier than women, and physiological differences don’t explain that difference.”
Sanchez and Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral student, have published studies in Preventive Medicine and The Journal of Health Psychology describing their research.
Himmelstein and Sanchez found that men who held traditional beliefs about masculinity – that men should be tough, brave, self-reliant and restrained in their expression of emotion – were more likely to ignore medical problems, or at least put off dealing with them, than women or than men with less traditional beliefs. They were more likely to choose a male doctor, based on the belief that male doctors were more competent than female doctors. Paradoxically, however, the researchers discovered that men, having chosen a male doctor, were less likely to be open with that doctor about their symptoms.
“That’s because they don’t want to show weakness or dependence to another man, including a male doctor,” Sanchez says.
Ironically, the researchers found, men tend to be more honest about their medical symptoms with female doctors, because, Sanchez theorizes, to be honest about vulnerabilities causes them no loss of status with women.
For their study, reported in Preventive Medicine, Himmelstein and Sanchez asked participants – about 250 men -- to fill out an online questionnaire designed to elicit their opinions about manhood and relative attributes of men and women. The participants also answered questions about doctor preference. The higher they scored on the masculinity scale, the more likely participants were to prefer a male to a female doctor. The researchers then recruited 250 male undergraduates at a large public university and had them fill out similar questionnaires. Each subject was interviewed by male and female pre-medical and nursing students about their medical conditions. The interviews took place in clinical examining rooms, and the interviewers wore white coats. The higher the subjects scored on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to discuss their symptoms frankly with the male interviewers.
Self-reliance, therefore, seems to be dangerous to one’s health, regardless of gender.
“It’s worse for men, however,” Himmelstein says. “Men have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant and tough. Women don’t have that script, so there isn’t any cultural message telling them that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms.”