Millennial men are ditching traditional ‘masculine’ values of physical strength and competitiveness: They care more about good health and altruism, study finds
- Researchers in Canada interviewed 630 men aged 18-29 about what it is to be a man
- The interviewees ‘squirmed’ at the question and felt ‘uncomfortable’ about answering it
- When they did, they prioritized good health and openness over strength and competitiveness
- Experts say this could have a strong, positive impact on men’s physical and mental health
Millennial men are more selfless, health-conscious and socially engaged than previous generations, new research suggests.
Researchers asked 630 men aged 15 to 29 what attributes men should have.
Traditionally ‘masculine’ traits – such as physical strength, independence, and competitiveness – were deemed less important.
Instead, being open, empathetic, healthy and generous were the highest-ranking traits.
The survey only included Canadian men, who have a reputation of good manners and being socially conscious, but the researchers told DailyMail.com that there does seem to be a general generational shift in men’s values.
Researchers asked men aged 15 to 29 what traits men should have. Traditionally ‘masculine’ traits – such as physical strength and competitiveness – were deemed less important
MILLENNIAL MEN’S VALUES
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Intentions Consulting asked 639 men about male values.
According to the results:
A man should…
…help other people – 91%
…be open – 88%
…be intellectual – 87%
…be fit and healthy – 86.5%
…be emotionally strong – 83%
…give back to the community – 80%
…be autonomous – 78%
…be physically strong – 75%
The study, published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity, was not just assessing how men feel these days. It was part of a broader attempt to understand what impacts men’s health.
Men have always had a shorter life expectancy than women.
They, traditionally, engage in riskier activities and less healthy habits.
When it comes to healthcare, it doesn’t figure.
Males of all ages – from teens to the elderly – are less likely than females to visit a doctor. In fact, a recent study found heterosexual men are also the least likely to check up on their partner’s health (while women and gay men do habitually).
Basically, ‘if you look at all the published literature on this, the answer is: men don’t do health,’ Nick Black, managing partner at Intentions Consulting, who co-authored the paper with the University of British Columbia, told DailyMail.com.
Getting to the heart of what men aspire to be, Black says, could shed light on why men’s health is typically so poor, and how to get around it.
‘These constructs of gender, and how you perform them, has a lot of influence on behaviors.’ If we understand what those constructs look like, he says, ‘we can have a big impact on health.’
The team recruited more than 600 men, and interviewed them. First asking them ‘what does it mean to be a man?’, before probing them to explain their answers.
Straight off the bat, their reactions weren’t as Black and lead author John Oliffe, a nursing professor who leads the men’s health research program at UBC, had expected.
‘They actually kind of squirmed,’ Black said. ‘They were uncomfortable with [the question]. They were uncomfortable with splitting things into female and male.’
Once the researchers got past that, they found that the most important value for these men was to help other people, with 91 percent of men saying that is what men should do.
The second most important trait was openness (according to 88 percent of men), followed by intellect (87 percent) and being fit and healthy (86.5 percent).
‘We were quite surprised,’ Black said, ‘particularly when it came to openness and wellness.’
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Digging deeper on the subject of openness, the men they spoke to felt that assuming the ‘macho’ role of being stoiac and bullish put them at a disadvantage, both socially and professionally.
‘They were talking about the importance of networks around them, caring for people and giving back to them,’ Black said.
‘In the past, you might be able to be kind of closed and rigid. But I think in order to thrive in this new working environment you need to be open.’
Wellness, too, was a surprise. Men cared more about feeling good, physically capable, and about looking desirable in order to meet a partner.
In a weird way, Black says, this seems to be intricately linked to money.
Many of the interviewees were not confident that they could achieve real financial success, and, regardless, weren’t convinced that money could define success for them.
And unlike previous generations, they felt that if they wanted to date a woman, she would be interested more in their looks, intellect and emotional strength, rather than their bank account.
‘Being fit and healthy was a status for them, to prove themselves as men,’ Black said.
‘As gender roles have become more equal, men [were more concerned] about taking care of themselves and being physically attractive.’
Black, who works with Movember and public health organizations in Canada, concedes that Canada, and particularly western Canada where they conducted the study, is a hub for the socially conscious, which impedes how much these results can be generalized.
What’s more, they carried out the interviews in 2016, just before the #MeToo movement, which is regarded as having such a strong, global social impact that there’s a chance results would be different if it was done now.
But the findings do slide neatly into the context of a growing swell of studies finding the same – that millennial men do not see eye to eye with the narrow definition of ‘masculinity’.
A YouGov poll from 2016 found that younger American men are much less likely than their fathers and grandfathers to say they feel ‘completely masculine’. Just 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said so, compared to 45 percent of men aged 45 to 64, and 65 percent of men over 65. And British men feel even less masculine, with just 2 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds saying they felt ‘completely masculine’.
Being masculine is no easy feat.
Compared to how we define femininity, masculinity is a narrow concept. Women can wear trousers and skirts, pink and blue, carry a bag or not. Men, by traditional standards, have half those options.
And most men feel that pressure acutely, according to a study by psychologist Jennifer K Bosson.
Bosson interviewed men about times they did something that was not masculine, and women about doing things that were not feminine. She found that women couldn’t really come up with any answers, while men had a myriad of scenarios – from wearing a pink shirt to holding their girlfriend’s purse for them.
‘My collaborators and I argue that the male gender role itself is kind of conceptualized as a precarious status. Manhood is something that is hard to earn and easy to lose, relative to womanhood,’ Bosson said in an interview on NPR’s Hidden Brain.
Black agrees – and that’s why he’s heartened by the results of his study.
Embracing a shift in the idea of what counts as ‘masculine’ could have significant implications for men’s health, both mental and physical.
‘Especially in Western society, we tend to view things in binary ways, black and white, male and female,’ Black said.
‘I think it’s important that we give young men permission to step into those roles.’
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