Aging is a universal experience and one that can be a privilege – yet its effects can be more far-reaching than just noticing more grey hairs and joint pains. A whole host of complex physical and psychological factors make up our experience of ageing, how we feel about ourselves and how the world perceives us. There is a lot of commentary around the intersection between age and gender when it comes to women – but I want to explore issues around aging and men. For the sake of ourselves, our fathers and our senior male friends and relatives, it’s worthwhile having an open conversation around age and masculinity. Here are some thoughts on men and aging:
- Older men can be caregivers. Historically, caregiving responsibility has fallen disproportionately on women, for a variety of reasons. But that is changing and now increasing numbers of men are taking on this role – and facing unique pressures because of it. Research from the National Alliance for Caregiving shows that men are less likely to feel prepared for the caring role and are also less likely to ask for help than their female counterparts.
- Men feel ‘old’ at a later age. Because of political and social conventions, including how we think about male virility later decline in fertility, men tend to see themselves as ‘old’ at a comparatively later age than women. A study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that men are found attractive at a more advanced age than women. This double standard means that the aging process doesn’t always lead to a decline in their self-perception of masculinity. However, this can be challenged by health and mobility issues, cosmetic issues, such as geriatric hair loss or needing a hip replacement, and a general loss of self-confidence.
- Many men suffer from anxiety about aging. Societal privilege when it comes to men and aging doesn’t mean that men are off the hook when it comes to the psychological effects of advancing age. The American Geriatrics Society surveyed men on what they most feared about the aging process. Results included a loss of purpose, dependence on others, physical weakness, sexual impotence and developing dementia. This has biological roots: males are more likely to suffer brain atrophy, a common result of many age-related ailments, than women. Men also suffer from a markedly higher rate of vascular dementia.
- In general men are happier. Despite the challenges to independent living and physical ability that have could present more of a challenge to men, older men are more likely to indicate they are happy in old age. The relationship between gender and wellbeing tends to reverse over time, with men finding it harder to be confident and content at a younger age. And with the World Health Organisation stating that, in the US, women live on average five years longer than their male counterparts, it seems they really are cut short in their primes. Differences in the male immune system may be the cause of this as much as their greater propensity for risk-taking behaviour.
There are many surprising findings around men and aging, but it’s absolutely worth further study. Note: this post contains contributed content.