Death by Masculinity

Despite overwhelming evidence that gender norms can adversely affect men's health, international health organizations continue to limit gender-specific efforts to women. A new approach is needed that aims to offset the negative impact that socially dictated – and commercially reinforced – gender norms have on men's health.

LONDON – News media are constantly reporting ways that everyday activities can damage our health. But perhaps the most far-reaching yet neglected global health risk stems from gender norms.

Despite overwhelming evidence that gender-based stereotypes and expectations can adversely impact health, gender-related health issues are largely ignored or misunderstood, with international health organizations often limiting gender-specific efforts to women or, even more narrowly, to mothers. And yet, according to the World Health Organization, in all but three countries worldwide, women can expect to outlive men, by up to seven years in Japan or by as little as a year in the poorer countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Women’s longer life expectancy has long been linked to differences in “biological pre-disposition,” with theories ranging from the protection afforded by women’s lower iron levels to the absence of “extra” genes on men’s Y chromosome. But some of the most obvious factors shortening men’s lives are to be found in a more pedestrian, yet politically sensitive, area: the differences in the “appropriate” behaviors for men and women, as dictated by society and reinforced by the market.

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