The gender gap in suicide and premature death or: why are men so vulnerable?

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Abstract.

Suicide and premature death due to coronary heart disease, violence, accidents, drug or alcohol abuse are strikingly male phenomena, particularly in the young and middle-aged groups. Rates of offending behaviour, conduct disorders, suicide and depression are even rising, and give evidence to a high gender-related vulnerability of young men. In explaining this vulnerability, the gender perspective offers an analytical tool to integrate structural and cultural factors. It is shown that traditional masculinity is a key risk factor for male vulnerability promoting maladaptive coping strategies such as emotional unexpressiveness, reluctance to seek help, or alcohol abuse. This basic male disposition is shown to increase psychosocial stress due to different societal conditions: to changes in male gender-role, to postmodern individualism and to rapid social change in Eastern Europe and Russia. Relying on empirical data and theoretical explanations, a gender model of male vulnerability is proposed. It is concluded that the gender gap in suicide and premature death can most likely be explained by perceived reduction in social role opportunities leading to social exclusion.

Received: 25 November 2002 / Accepted: 3 December 2002
Correspondence to Dr. Anne Maria Möller-Leimkühler