Roles sexuales y salud mental en una muestra de la población general española

  1. María Pilar Matud Aznar
  2. Laura Aguilera Ávila
Salud mental

ISSN: 0185-3325

Year of publication: 2009

Volume: 32

Issue: 1

Pages: 53-58

Type: Article


Research on gender differences in health has generally shown that women report higher levels of minor psychiatric morbidity than men. One of the explicative variables for these findings is the different social roles of women and men. Sex role ideology refers to beliefs about appropriate roles for each gender, and is relevant from a psychological point of view because it is associated with self–definition, interactions between men and women and social relations. Most societies consider that women and men are different and consider that they should adopt different roles. These roles determine different social behaviors. Masculinity and femininity refer to feature differences, behaviours and interests assigned by society to each gender. The other two gender role categories proposed by Sandra Bem are androgyny (characterized by the presence of feminine and masculine characteristics) and an undifferentiated sex role (referring to individuals who have low levels of masculine or feminine characteristics). Classic theories on sex typing and gender role differences between women and men have suggested that such differences have been considered as normal and healthy, since they reflect social norms regarding appropriate behaviour in women and men. Furthermore, there is a tendency within mental health professionals who view masculine men and feminine women as normal and healthy. Nevertheless, research on this matter has not provided empirical evidence in relation to such hypotheses. It has also been suggested that reversing gender ideals can be stressful for men and women because such ideals are socially imposed, and therefore, obstruct self–regulation and are connected to the external representation of self–value. The aim of the current study is to find out whether there are mental health differences in a sample of the general Spanish population among the categories of sex role proposed by Sandra Bem. These categories are: masculine, which refers to individuals with high scores in masculinity and low scores in femininity; feminine, which comprises those individuals with high scores in femininity and low scores in masculinity; androgynous, which includes individuals with high scores in masculinity and femininity; and undifferentiated, which gathers those individuals with low scores in masculinity and femininity. The sample included 197 women and 140 men from the general population who voluntarily took part in the study. Participants ranged in age from 17 to 74 years, with a mean of 32.2 years (SD = 12.2), and with different social and demographic characteristics. They were assessed using the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), the Goldberg General Health Questionnaire (GHQ–28) and the Self–Esteem Inventory (SEQ). In order to know whether there were any statistically significant differences in health according to sex roles, and whether these interacted with gender, analysis of variance(ANOVA)and multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) were performed. The factors in all of them were the four sex role categories (androgynous, masculine, feminine and undifferentiated) and gender (men, women); and the dependent variables were the scores in GHQ–28 in the first group of analysis, and the two self–esteem factors in the second. In the MANOVA where the dependent variables were the four GHQ–28 scales of symptoms, we found that the interaction between sex roles and gender was statistically significant. When performing the analysis independently for each gender, we found that in the male sample there were statistically significant differences only according to sex roles in somatic symptoms. Men with undifferentiated sex roles showed fewer somatic symptoms than men with feminine or androgynous sex roles. In the female sample, we found statistically significant differences according to sex roles in somatic, anxiety and insomnia symptoms. Post hoc analysis with the Bonferroni adjustment showed that statistically significant differences occurred between the female groups with undifferentiated and androgynous sex roles. The latter female group showed fewer somatic, anxiety and insomnia symptoms. The analysis of the differences between women and men in mental health symptoms showed statistically significant differences in somatic, anxiety and insomnia symptoms. Women obtained higher average scores than men. However, there were no statistically significant differences in depressive symptoms nor social dysfunction. When the two factors from the self–esteem questionnaire were considered as dependent variables, the analyses of variance showed that the interaction between sex roles and gender was not statistically significant. Gender main effects were not statistically significant either, however sex role main effects were statistically significant. Post hoc analysis with the Bonferroni adjustment showed that individuals with an undifferentiated sex role evaluated themselves more negatively, and individuals with a masculine sex role evaluated themselves less negatively than those with a feminine sex role. There was no difference in self–confidence between individuals with androgynous sex roles and individuals with a masculine sex role, but both groups showed greater self–confidence than those individuals with feminine or undifferentiated sex roles. The latter group showed less self–confidence than individuals with a feminine sex role. These findings show that sex–typed individuals do not have better mental health or higher self–esteem than androgynous and undifferentiated individuals. Therefore, as in many other studies in other sociocultural settings, our results confirm the lack of empirical evidence for the traditional perspective that masculinity is better for men and femininity is better for women. Our data shows the complexity of relationships between sex roles and health, which depend on gender and on the kind of mental health indicator used. Therefore, while social dysfunction and depressive symptoms seem to be independent from sex role and gender, the effects of sex role on somatic, anxiety and insomnia symptoms were different for women and men. Whereas in the male sample, those with undifferentiated sex roles were the ones showing fewer somatic symptoms, in the women's sample, those with an androgynous sex role were the ones showing less somatic and anxiety and insomnia symptoms compared to those with an undifferentiated sex role. Nevertheless, self–esteem factors showed the highest differences between the various sex role categories. These factors seem to be the same for women and men. For example, we found that individuals with undifferentiated sex roles show higher negative self–worth and lower self–confidence than individuals classified in the other roles. In addition, individuals with a masculine sex role also value themselves less negatively and have higher self–confidence than individuals with a feminine sex role. Lastly, individuals classified in the androgynous sex role have similar self–confidence levels to those with a masculine sex role. The type of mental health symptoms where statistically significant. Differences between women and men are found, these differences were the same as those found in the female sample with regard to sex roles. This seems to indicate the relevance that sex roles have in mental health (in each gender), as some authors have highlighted. However, this study has some limitations to take into account when interpreting the results. Firstly, it is a transversal study, therefore we can talk about association, but not cause–and–effect relations between sex roles and health. Secondly, the sample is not random therefore it is not possible to generalize these results to the population.