Public Release: 

Men's health: U-M study shows how bad it is, why and what to do about it

University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---At every age, American males have poorer health and a higher risk of mortality than females, according to a University of Michigan report published in the May 2003 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"Men have higher age-adjusted death rates than women for the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., with the exception of Alzheimer's disease," said sociologist David R. Williams, a senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research, the world's largest academic survey and research organization. "And both Black and white men have death rates at least twice as high as women for accidents, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver and homicide."

Although all men are doing poorly in terms of health, Williams noted that men with low incomes and educations, minority men with low incomes and educations, and middle-class Black men are at especially high risk.

The findings were reported April 29 in Washington, D.C., at a National Press Club briefing sponsored by the American Journal of Public Health and by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which recently announced a new program to deliver health services to low-income men of color.

According to Williams, multiple factors contribute to the elevated health risks of men. These factors include economic marginality, adverse working conditions and gendered coping responses to stress that lead to high levels of substance use, other damaging behaviors and an aversion to protective health behaviors.

Compared to women, for example, men are more likely to smoke cigarettes (26 percent vs. 22 percent) and twice as likely to consume five or more drinks of alcohol in one day, Williams noted.

"Beliefs about masculinity and manhood that are deeply rooted in culture and supported by social institutions play a role in shaping the behavior patterns of men in ways that have negative consequences for their health," Williams said. "Men are socialized to project strength, individuality, autonomy, dominance, stoicism and physical aggression, and to avoid demonstrations of emotion or vulnerability that could be construed as weakness."

These cultural orientations, along with structural social inequalities that include the differential distribution of desirable occupational opportunities by race, contribute to the gender gap in health, according to Williams. Comparing the health of men to the health of women does not deny or minimize the pressing need to reduce health and social inequalities for women, especially women of color, Williams noted. But increasing awareness of the health challenges men also face is the first step to improving the living and working conditions that help to create those challenges.

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Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive.

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