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Macho man isn't happy: men who conform to traditional stereotypes of masculinity have more mental health problems and are less likely to seek treatment. iStock

For men who think it's important to try to have power over women and be sexually promiscuous, it's worth thinking twice – men with these traits are more likely to be lonely, depressed and less satisfied with life, a study of nearly 20,000 men found.

Men who conformed to traditional ideas of masculinity are more likely to have mental health problems, according to a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. They are also significantly less likely to seek help to deal with them.

The study – a meta-analysis looking at a total of 19,453 participants – found that several traits in particular were linked to negative feelings. Trying to be very promiscuous and seeking power over women were the most likely to make men suffer negative feelings, the study found.

"The masculine norms of playboy and power over women are the norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes," says study coauthor Y Joel Wong, of Indiana University Bloomington in the US.

"The robust association between conformity to these two norms and negative mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but may also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of those who embrace such attitudes."

Conformity to Masculine Norms inventory - how macho is too macho?

  1. desire to win
  2. need for emotional control
  3. risk-taking
  4. violence
  5. dominance
  6. playboy behaviour (sexual promiscuity)
  7. self-reliance
  8. primacy of work (importance placed on one's job)
  9. power over women
  10. disdain for homosexuality
  11. pursuit of status

The researchers used a measure of 11 characteristics associated with traditional masculinity – the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory – to test associations with negative mental health.

Some of these traits were not so closely related to poor mental health: placing a high value on your job, for example, was an exception. "Primacy of work was not significantly associated with any of the mental health-related outcomes," says Wong.

"Perhaps this is a reflection of the complexity of work and its implications for well-being. An excessive focus on work can be harmful to one's health and interpersonal relationships, but work is also a source of meaning for many individuals."

The negative associations were stronger among non-white men and men who had not had a university education, the study finds. The authors postulate that this could be related to socio-economic factors, which are also linked to mental health.