Men who still outwardly exhibit sexism, such as a “playboy” attitude or a firm belief in the superiority of males, may have higher risks of developing mental health problems compared to men who don’t, a new study suggests.
This new finding on sexism and other so-called “traditional views” on male and female dynamics comes from an analysis of 74 studies completed from 2003 to 2013. The studies included close to 19,500 men, most of whom were white, according to US News and World Report.
Joel Wong, lead author on the study and an associate professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University Bloomington, says the research “looked at expectations about what it means to be masculine, and how that relates to mental health outcomes among men.” He explains,
What we found overall is that the more that men conformed to masculine norms the poorer their mental health, and the less likely they were to seek mental health services.
The researchers focused on data involving 11 different types of supposed “masculine norms,” which included the desire to win, to retain emotional control, to take risks, to engage in violence, to exert dominant behavior, to be self-reliant, to participate in a playboy lifestyle, to retain power over women, to elevate work to the highest level of importance, to maintain a disdain for homosexuals and to pursue “status.”
How much participants believed in and practiced these behaviors was compared to the risk for developing various mental health issues such as depression, stress, body image trouble, and difficulty socializing with others.
Wong’s team found that men who stick to these masculine norms are in a worse state when it comes to mental health, and are less likely to seek help. Factors such as race, age and sexual orientation did not have any bearing on the finding.
Digging deeper, the researchers found that there were differences with regards to educational background in the studies. There was a stronger link between embracing these male behaviors and poor mental health among adults who did not have a college education.
In addition, only four of the masculine norms were “significantly” linked to worse mental health: retaining emotional control, self-reliance, power over women and promiscuous behavior. Among these, self-reliance had the strongest association with a psychological breakdown.
Risk-taking, while it had some bearing on poorer mental health, was also “significantly” linked to better overall mental health.
The researchers also observed that adhering to these norms was more likely to bring on loneliness, hostility and social problems that could lead to depression.
Wong said the findings don’t answer the question of why, but he has a theory. “I would say that it could be that these norms are increasingly being rejected and thought of as outdated, which means some men might get pushback by people who are uncomfortable with these norms.”
The study was published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.