TUESDAY, Aug. 11, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- It's no secret that men don't like to go to the doctor, but new research finds they're especially likely to stay home if they're big on being macho.
Middle-aged men who are most devoted to traditional beliefs about masculinity are half as likely as other men to get routine medical care, researchers report.
It's not clear whether feelings about masculinity directly make men avoid doctor visits; the study only indicates that a cause-and-effect link might exist. Nor do researchers know what this might mean for men's health.
Still, the findings suggest that "we could help men's health if we could dismantle this idea that manhood and masculinity is about being invulnerable, not needing help and not showing pain," said study author Kristen W. Springer, an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Previous research has suggested that "men are less likely to go to the doctor than women, across the board," Springer said -- a notion she finds surprising because men are wealthier overall, potentially giving them better access to medical care.
Springer and a colleague launched their study to determine the role that ideas about masculinity play in the decisions men make about their health care.
Springer said she defines masculinity as a "stereotypical, old-school, John Wayne- and Sylvester Stallone-style" approach to life.
The researchers examined the results of surveys taken in 2004 by 1,000 white, middle-aged men in Wisconsin. The men answered questions about their beliefs regarding masculinity and disclosed whether they'd gotten recommended annual physicals, prostate checks and flu shots.
After adjusting the results to reduce the chance they would be thrown off by such things as a high number of married participants, researchers found that men who were the highest believers in masculine standards were 50 percent less likely to get the recommended care than other men.
Springer was unable to provide statistics about the percentage of men in each group who got the recommended care. Overall, though, fewer than half of all men did, according to the study.
There was one exception to the rule: Blue-collar workers who had a high attachment to masculinity were more likely to get the recommended health care.
The study has limitations. All participants were white, and all had completed high school. And Springer said unanswered questions remain, such as whether spouses play a role through "support or nagging."
The findings were to be presented Monday at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
Howard S. Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, said his research has found that less masculine men live longer than masculine men. But the new study doesn't show anything like that because it doesn't examine long-term effects on health, he said.
As for the gap between men and women when it comes to living longer, he said, "it would be a stretch, going beyond the data, to link it closely to men's increased mortality risk as compared to women."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on men's health.