There is an ongoing, increasing and predominantly silent crisis in the health and well-being of American men. Due to a lack of awareness, poor health education, and culturally induced behavior patterns in their work and personal lives, men's health and well-being are deteriorating steadily. The men's health crisis is seen most dramatically in mortality figures. In 1920, the life expectancy of males and females was roughly the same. Since that time and, increasingly, in the 1970's and 1980's, the life expectancy for men has dropped in comparison with that of women. Men's life expectancy now is over 10% lower than that of women. The average life expectancy (1991) for black men is 65 years, that of black women is 73 years. The average life expectancy for white men is 71 years, that of white women is 78 years. Over the last thirty years, the ratio of male mortality over female mortality has increased in every age category.
Men's health is obviously a concern for men but it is also a concern for women -- concern for their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. Men's health is also a concern for employers who lose productive employees as well as pay the costs of medical care and a concern for government and society which absorb the enormous costs of premature death and disability, including the costs of caring for dependents left behind.
The relative lag in men's health is due to a number of causes. One primary cause is the cultural message that men should not react to pain in their bodies or their souls. Thoreau observed more than a century ago, that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," yet many men continue to fear the risk of appearing unmanly or merely mortal by changing their behavior or their environment in life preserving ways. The consequence is that men are at greater risk for several of the top killers of Americans -- heart disease, cancer, suicide, accidents and violence. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men. One in every five men can expect to suffer a heart attack before the age of 65. Between the ages of 25 and 75, men's death rate from heart disease is two to three times greater than that experienced by women in the same age group.
Both male specific cancers (testicular, prostate) and other non-gender specific cancers have reached epidemic proportions among men. One in five men is expected to develop prostate cancer at some point in his life. While female specific cancers also are taking a tragic toll among women, men's mortality from cancer is great than that of women and by the age of seventy-five, men are dying from cancer at twice the rate of women. Black men are especially at risk. The cancer death rate for black men is twice that of white males.
Death by suicide, accident and violence is also predominantly a male phenomenon. Premature death by suicide, violence or accident is all too common for men. Approximately four out of five deaths by suicide are men. In the 20 - 24 age group, for example, men are over six times more likely to commit suicide than are women. Above the age of 85, men are over eleven times more likely to take their own lives. Veterans and divorced men have suicide rates even higher than those of other men.
Work place accidents are also a major killer of men. 98% of all the employees in the ten most dangerous professions are men and 94% of all those who die in the workplace are men.
The lack of awareness, disease prevention information and psychological help for men is tragic. Virtually all of the major killers of men are preventable. Changes in life-style, eating habits, workplace environment and other strategies including early disease detection can not only save millions of men's lives each year, but can also change the nature of men's place in society and in the lives of those they love and those who love them.
Men are also a large part of the growing crisis in the American family. Studies report that parents today spend 40% less time with their children than did parents in 1965. Men are increasingly isolated from their families by work and divorce. A recent poll indicated that men are increasingly unhappy about this situation. In the poll, 72% of employed male respondents agreed that they are "torn by conflict" between their jobs and the desire to be with their families. Yet, men are still responsible for bringing in 75% of the family income. A recent poll taken by the insurance industry, noted that 81% of men feel that being a father is more difficult today than it was 20 years ago.
The increasing number of divorces is also taking a toll on fathers. Many fathers are unable to interact with their children because of legal and emotional barriers following divorce. This has led to children being deprived of fathers and also to their psychological devastation of fathers unable to be with their children. The suicide rate for men after divorce is four times that of women. At the same time, more men are facing the challenge of being the single-parent in the post-divorce household. Fathers now head 21% of single-parent households, and the trend of fathers gaining custody is growing. Many of these new single-parent fathers need support in order to cope with their financial and personal responsibilities.
Of course, children are the ultimate victims of father absence, be it due to work or divorce. A vast array of social services research shows that children and especially boys, do far better with a father than without. Whether the issue is physical or mental health, suicide, school achievement or teenage pregnancy or drug abuse, a father's presence is an important key to a child's success and well-being.
The Men's Health Network was created to address this growing men's health crisis. The goals of the Network are as follows:
Men's Health Network