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20th OCTOBER, 2021
In terms of health, many social explanations attempt to account for the differences
between men and women. The popular ones are those linked to social roles and
socioeconomic status. Truth be told, apart from the differences caused by physiology between
men and women, most of the differences between the two genders are constructed socially
rather than determined biologically (Mayor, 2015).
Before delving further, it’s important to differentiate between “sex” and “gender.” In
literature relating to this field, the differences between sex and gender are clearly outlined.
The term “sex” has to do with the biological differences between both genders. In contrast,
“gender” is used more for the societal assigned differentiated social roles in terms of what
they do and experience on account of being a male or female (e.g., providers of resources vs.
makers of the home — hereafter gender roles. (Eagly et al., 2000).
In going through life, people learn vicariously, implicitly, and explicitly which
behaviors are expected and desirable for women or men in society. To name but a few;
experiencing men go out to work to fend for their family while women stay back at home to
take care of the kids and the home, the stereotyping of activities, and the encouragement to
participate in such activities or injunctions (most especially in children: e.g., “boys don’t
cry,” “girls don’t swear”). Later in life, these injunctions or experiences form a stronghold in
the mind and influence behaviors (Martin et al., 2002).
Individuals integrate “behavioral expectations into their identity (gender traits), and
the typicality of gender traits (masculinity and femininity) follows their desirability” (Mayor,
The traditional behavioral expectations for the female gender are referred to as
femininity, also known as emotionality and communion. At the same time, masculinity, also
known as agency or instrumentality, refers to the behavioral expectations for the male gender.
Research on the association between health and gender traits has revealed a positive
association between masculinity and health, except for cardiovascular diseases (accounts for
higher mortality of men). This gender has fewer physical symptoms, better health (overall) in
terms of self-assessment, and rarely consult health practitioners (N = 886; Annandale and
Hunt, 1990), and better mental health as masculinity is inversely proportional to fatigue,
depression, and anxiety but directly proportional to substance use disorder and antisocial
behavior (N = 336; Shifren and Bauserman, 1996).
There is also a positive association between femininity and health-promoting
behaviors. But there are different conflicting findings in the association between health and
femininity. (e.g., are likely to suffer from fainting, fatigue, constipation, and dizziness.
(Ogden, 2019). Femininity is related to higher risks of depression in women and to better and
worse physical health outcomes depending on the studies. Notwithstanding, women have a
longer life expectancy compared to men in different parts of the globe.
Reasons for gender differences in Illness
Risk-taking behaviors
The male gender body frame is comparatively strong and agile built, which enhances
sets of volatile and risky behaviors like participating in extreme sports such as sky/scuba
diving, rally driving, bungee jumping, etc.
Health Behaviors
Many men are not deliberate about eating good diets; they eat different junks and lots
of red meat instead of eating veggies. Furthermore, there are higher rates of smokers, addicts,
and drunkards in the male gender, which oftentimes continue till adulthood and even old age,
which can even worsen in the case of a tragedy such as losing a spouse or loved one. The
only area where men are better than women positively is in physical health. (Ogden, 2019).
Help-seeking behavior
Men do not utilize health care services compared to women. This may be due to the
feeling that they are strong enough to handle whatever health issues they may have, which
tends to cause them to delay and/or avoid help-seeking; this doesn’t always end well.
Factors of Health outcomes:
Perceived control
Men’s self-assessment of their health status is comparatively more positive in outlook
than women. Hence, they find it difficult to imagine being ill, which results in delay in helpseeking. This behavior is one of the reasons for a short life expectancy in men.
Social Norms
Most societies view men as the stronger sex. So, weakness and vulnerability must not
be shown by men (Lee and Owens, 2002). Unfortunately, this encourages terrible and
unhealthy behaviors, which then culminate in a shorter life span. On the other hand, society
encourages women to seek help when it is needed and liver healthy.
Coping Mechanisms:
Men have been conditioned by society not to show vulnerabilities and seek help when
needed. As a result, emotions are bottled up in men even as they resort to using the coping
mechanism to block out or suppress their pain. This is dangerous as it can lead to unhealthy
behaviors that are risks for different pathos, including cardiovascular disease.
In conclusion, gender differences as it relates to sickness and health is worth paying
attention. Delaying or avoiding healthcare must be done away with, while help-seeking
behaviors must be encouraged, particularly among the male gender.
Annandale, E., and Hunt, K. (1990). Masculinity, femininity and sex: an exploration of their
relative contribution to explaining gender differences in health. Sociol. Health
Illn. 12, 24–46. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.ep10844865
Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., and Diekman, A. B. (2000). “Social role theory of sex differences
and similarities: a current appraisal,” in The Developmental Social Psychology of
Gender, eds T. Eckes and H. M. Trautner (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates Publishers), 123–174.
Mayor, Eric (2015). Gender roles and traits in stress and health. Frontiers in Psychology, 6,
1-7 –. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00779
Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., and Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender
development. Psychol. Bull. 128, 903–933. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.128.6.903
Ogden, J. (2019). Gender, Health, and Illness. The Psychology of Health and Illness: An
Shifren, K., and Bauserman, R. L. (1996). The relationship between instrumental and
expressive traits, health behaviour, and perceived health. Sex Roles 34, 841–864.
doi: 10.1007/bf01544319