At an APA Presidential Miniconvention talk "Gender, stress and health," University of Kansas psychologist Annette L. Stanton, PhD, balanced Will Courtenay's presentation on the link between traditional masculine values and unhealthy behaviors with a look at the female side of the equation.
Stanton summarized global findings from women's psychosocial health research and discussed their implications for practice.
Research on gender differences in health behaviors should be viewed with both caution and interest, Stanton commented. It's important to note, for example, that health differences among women are greater than those between men and women.
Of particular salience, she said, are socioeconomic and cultural factors that influence women's health. An example is research showing that while white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die from it. In addition, poverty is linked to early mortality in both genders, she commented.
However, as Courtenay points out, gender differences are also a meaningful way to frame health issues, Stanton said. In addition, it's vital to understand how male health behaviors influence women's health and well-being, the two agreed. In an extreme negative example, research shows that 42 percent of murdered women are killed by male partners, Stanton said. Other studies find that marriage per se is more likely to protect men's health than women's; for women, the quality of the marriage may be more influential in protecting health. One study to support this notion found that stress exacerbated the symptoms of women with rheumatoid arthritis, except among those who had positive interactions with their mates.
Such findings suggest that health plans are likely to work best if they're specifically tailored to individual women's circumstances, Stanton noted. In one promising intervention that takes this approach, individuals with osteoarthritis who engaged in a 10-week program where their spouses helped them cope with their pain reported more symptom relief than those who took part in an educational program, she said.Courtenay's work is summarized on the Web site www.menshealth.org, or you can e-mail him at email@example.com. Stanton can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.