Toxic masculinity is literally toxic, causing health problems for men in later life

toxic masculinity

Toxic masculinity can actually be harmful to men’s health, causing a host of health problems in later life, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, was conducted by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU).

MSU assistant sociology professor Stef Shuster defined toxic masculinity as a pressure on men to be “autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion”. The American Psychological Association (APA) previously said it also includes “emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance, and competitiveness”.

The team of researchers analysed around 5,500 older women and men from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey, which administered the Hegemonic Masculinity for Older Men Scale, meaning that they looked at “masculinity on a spectrum”.

The higher men score on the scale, the less likely they were to seek help or change their views.

Shuster said: “Often, toxic masculinity is a term that we use to describe how masculinity affects other people, especially women.

“But our study shows how toxic masculinity also has detrimental consequences for the men who subscribe to these ideals.

“The very premise of hegemonic masculinity in some ways is based on the idea of isolation because it’s about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion. It’s hard to develop friendships living this way.”

They added: “When we age, there are certain ways that we can ensure we maintain our health and well-being.

“Having people with whom we can talk about personal matters is a form of social support. If people only have one person that they can share information with, or sometimes even no people, they don’t really have an opportunity to reflect and share.”

This isolation means that when problems arise, men have no one to share them with, which can have a significant impact on mental and physical health.

Shuster said: “Older men who endorse the ideals of toxic masculinity can become siloed off as they age. Not all older men are at risk – just those who favour a particular set of ideals.”

They continued: “Can you change someone’s ideological principles? I think that’s a harder sell than trying to get people to believe that social isolation is incredibly detrimental to their health.

“It’s about learning how to offer tools for people not to be socially isolated and helping them develop the capacity to recognise that all of the ways they have upheld being so-called ‘real men’ is not going to work for them as they age.”

The APA previously found that toxic masculinity can limit psychological development in men, which can also affect mental and physical health.

In a 2019 report, it noted: “Conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”