Harvard Health Letter

Masculinity and men's health

Beliefs about the way men are supposed to behave may stand in the way of healthful behaviors and men getting the care they need.

Men lag behind women when it comes to health. They die younger — although the life expectancy gap has narrowed in the United States. Heart disease among women has been getting some overdue attention, but the fact remains that men start having heart attacks and strokes in large numbers about a decade earlier than women. Each year in the United States, almost four times as many males as females die by committing suicide. And over twice as many men as women die from alcohol-related deaths.

Biological differences probably explain some of these disparities. It's widely believed that men get heart disease at a younger age than women because they don't benefit from the protective effects of estrogen, the female sex hormone. Health insurance coverage and access to health care may be another factor: a larger percentage of men have no health insurance.

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