Harbouring sexist ideas has a negative impact on men’s mental health, new research suggests.
The study found that men who see themselves as “playboys” or as having power over women were more likely to have psychological problems than men who rejected traditionally “masculine norms”.
Men who conformed strongly to traits considered “masculine” were also less likely to seek help for mental health issues than others.
The research, published by the American Psychological Association, analysed data from 78 research samples involving more than 19,000 participants.
The researchers monitored the relationship between mental health and conformity to 11 norms considered by the experts to reflect society’s expectations of traditional masculinity:
:: desire to win
:: need for emotional control
:: playboy (sexual promiscuity)
:: primacy of work (importance placed on one’s job)
:: power over women
:: disdain for homosexuality
:: pursuit of status
“In general, individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favourable attitudes toward seeking psychological help, although the results differed depending on specific types of masculine norms,” said lead author Y. Joel Wong, of Indiana University Bloomington.
Specifically, the researchers focused on three broad types of mental health outcomes: negative mental health (e.g. depression), positive mental health (e.g. life satisfaction) and psychological help seeking (e.g. seeking counselling services).
While most of the US-based studies focused on predominantly white males, some focused predominantly on African-American males and some on Asian-American males.
While overall, conforming to masculine norms was associated with negative mental health outcomes, the researchers found the association to be most consistent for three norms: self-reliance, pursuit of playboy behaviour, and power over women.
“The masculine norms of playboy and power over women are the norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes,” said Wong.
“The robust association between conformity to these two norms and negative mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but may also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of those who embrace such attitudes.”
Even more concerning, said Wong, was that men who strongly conformed to masculine norms were not only more likely to have poor mental health but also also less likely to seek mental health treatment.
The researchers noted that masculine norms relating to work brought inconsistent conclusions around mental health.
“Primacy of work was not significantly associated with any of the mental health-related outcomes,” said Wong.
“Perhaps this is a reflection of the complexity of work and its implications for wellbeing. An excessive focus on work can be harmful to one’s health and interpersonal relationships, but work is also a source of meaning for many individuals.”
The study was published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology.