Men's Health & Freedom

Men's Health & Freedom

Economic freedom could be bad for your health if you’re a man caught in the fervor of competing for status, wealth, and power, say the authors of a new UM study. Using data collected by the World Health Organization, Daniel Kruger, research scientist at SPH, and Randolph Nesse, a professor at the UM Institute for Social Research, examined mortality patterns in 14 Eastern European countries before, during, and after the transition from centrally planned to market economies in the 1990s. They found that the difference in mortality rates between men and women increased greatly during the transition and remained relatively higher afterwards.

The findings give us insight into the kind of social and economic policies that may be beneficial for our health, Kruger said. Dramatic increases in income inequality could lead to similar effects in Western countries.

At first glance, the results seem counterintuitive because of the optimism usually associated with the fall of the Iron Curtain, but they fall in line with what researchers already know about mortality discrepancies between men and women. Historically, competition for resources among males fuels risky behavior and stress.
“Prior to the transition there wasn’t so much incentive for competition because there was not much of a difference in social status or resources,” Kruger said. “Most people were fairly equally well-off.”

Certain groups of men were more adversely affected than others, the researchers found. People of retirement age were scarcely affected, because they did not have to compete economically. Those under 25 were also not greatly affected, probably because they saw huge opportunities in the transition.

There were vast differences among countries as well. For example, the Czech Republic had one of the lowest mortality discrepancies. The Czech industrial base fared well in the transition, and the capital city of Prague, which was spared devastation by World War II, became a thriving tourist attraction. But the former Soviet Socialist Republics have not fared as well economically, and this is reflected in large increases in mortality differences. Laura Bailey

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