By Fabian Goguta
Researcher and Academic Writer, Montreal, Canada
for Migraine Escape February 2018
Today, there are more and more people that use alternative/complementary medicine in order to treat or ameliorate conditions for which conventional medicine has no solutions. While some people misuse alternative medicine by attempting to treat serious medical conditions that require the use of conventional interventions, others can say that they have finally discovered a solution for chronic problems that seemed to have no remedy.
For some reason, most of these “explorers” are middle-aged women with a higher-than-average formal education and income. Men, of any background, are significantly less likely to use alternative medicine. Why? Nobody knows exactly. Could gender roles have anything to do with it? Quite likely.
Australia ranks as one of the Western countries where alternative medicine is most used, perhaps because it is located in proximity to countries where different forms of alternative medicine have always been popular (e.g., China, India).
Even in Australia, women are much more likely than men to use alternative treatments. Researchers suggest that women who use alternative medicine tend to have more formal education and higher incomes (e.g., see Kristoffersen, Stub, Salamonsen, Musial & Hamberg, 2014).
A possible explanation for this observation is that women with higher formal education are more likely to access resources that can inform them about the effectiveness of different types of alternative treatments and are more likely to buy some of these treatments if they have a greater disposable income. Men, on the other hand, are generally reluctant to use alternative medicine.
Why are men with a high level of formal education and income much less likely to use alternative medicine compared to their female counterparts? Is it because some parts of the society still teach men to be “tough”?
It is quite known that all over the Western world women are more likely than men to take an active role in their health, are more concerned about different health issues, and are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviours. For example, women are more likely to engage in routine health visits, use supports groups, and read self-help books.
Some believe that these observations can be explained by the existence of traditional gender roles that are still somewhat enforced in our society. More specifically, men, some of them, may perceive any sign of weakness or need for support as “unmasculine”. Some men may still believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Men are also stereotyped as more sceptical. Assuming that men are indeed-on average-more sceptical than women, it is not surprising that they are less likely to take into consideration the possible benefits of treatments that enjoy less acceptance within a specific culture. If the average man is both more sceptical and less likely to be concerned about his health, it’s not surprising at all that he will be reluctant to search information that may challenge his beliefs.
Finally, to be clear, we (researchers and the society as a whole) cannot firmly say that gender roles are the best explanation to the observed differences between men and women in their attitudes toward alternative medicine and health in general.
There may be factors that are more relevant, but which ones? If gender roles do indeed play a central role and considering that cultural assumptions of what constitutes a gender or another evolve relatively slow (in terms of decades), could it be that there is no near future of alternative medicine for most men?
Kristoffersen, A. E., Stub, T., Salamonsen, A., Musial, F., & Hamberg, K. (2014). Gender differences in prevalence and associations for use of CAM in a large population study. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 14(1), 463.