Researchers have found that men who endorse hegemonic ideals of masculinity – or ‘toxic masculinity’ – can become socially isolated as they age, impacting their health, well-being and overall happiness.
For the findings, published in the journal Sex Roles, the researchers analysed nearly 5,500 US older women and men from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey, which administered the Hegemonic Masculinity for ‘Older Men Scale’.
“When we age, there are certain ways that we can ensure we maintain our health and well-being,” said study researcher Stef Shuster, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University in the US.
“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,” Shuster added.
According to the researchers, when issues arise, like health or financial problems, it puts individuals in an incredibly disadvantaged position if they don’t have anyone to share this with, which also might have negative consequences for their mental health.
“Social isolation is common among aging adults. Changes such as retirement, widowhood or moving to a new home can disrupt their existing friendships,” said study co-author Celeste Campos-Castillo from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The study revealed that 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 favor a particular set of ideals, it added.
“A lot of gender research is based on simplistic binaries of women or men, feminine or masculine, either you’re hegemonically masculine or you’re not,” Shuster said.
“Because of the data set that we’re using, our study actually looks at masculinity on a spectrum,” Shuster added.
The study also found that embracing toxic masculinity is self-harming.
“Often, toxic masculinity is a term that we use to describe how masculinity affects other people, especially women,” Shuster said.
But this 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, the researchers said.
The researchers suggest social isolation may be alleviated by embracing an alternative understanding of masculinity that doesn’t rely on independence and toughness as the only way to be ‘real men,’ or at least easing up on the principles of hegemonic masculinity.
Still, Shuster recognises that the higher men score on the scale of hegemonic masculinity, the less likely they are to change their views or seek help.