Drop the tough guy act.
Seriously. It’s a matter of life and death, according to two new studies from Rutgers University.
Researchers found men not only die five years earlier than women (statistically, on average), but they’re also less likely to go to the doctor. (A coincidence? Not likely, the researchers say.) And here’s the kicker: When you do go, you’re more inclined to choose a male MD but less likely to be honest with him about your symptoms than if you had a female doctor.
In the first study, published in Preventive Medicine, researchers asked about 250 men to fill out an online questionnaire to get their opinions about manhood, their preference in doctors, and the core attributes they relate to men and women. The higher the men scored on the masculinity scale (inferred from their answers), the more likely they were to prefer a male doctor.
Then, the researchers recruited an additional 250 male undergraduates at a large public university and had them fill out similar questionnaires. Each participant was interviewed by either a male or female pre-medical/nursing student and asked about his medical conditions. The higher these subjects scored on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to discuss their symptoms honestly with the male interviewers.
In the second study, published in The Journal of Health Psychology, researchers interviewed 193 students (88 men, 105 women) at a large, public university in the U.S., as well as a separate sample of 298 people (half men, half women) from the general public, asking them questions similar to study number one.
As expected, researchers found men with strong traditional opinions about masculinity were less likely to seek medical help, more likely to minimize their symptoms, and more apt to suffer worse health outcomes than women and men who didn't share those opinions.
Researchers also revealed women who thought they should be brave and self-reliant (implied by their responses) were less likely to seek treatment, more likely to put off seeking medical help, and less likely to be forthcoming with their doctors than women whose core values weren’t toughness and self-reliance.
So yes, women aren't completely off the hook, but still: "It's worse for men," co-author Mary 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."
The researchers theorize men tend to be more honest with female doctors because exposing their vulnerabilities and weaknesses doesn’t hurt their status with women. So, if you're sick, drop the tough-guy act and make an appointment with your MD already—and be sure to tell him or her all of your symptoms, even the "embarrassing" or decidedly "un-tough" ones.