‘Causes of causes’: ethnicity and social position as determinants of health inequality in Irish Traveller men

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This study sought to engage Traveller men in a discussion about their lives, their health and key determinants of their health, with a view to engaging Traveller men in health promotion initiatives. Irish Travellers are an indigenous ethnic minority, constituting 0.8% of the population. As a marginalized group, they experience significantly poorer health status than their counterparts in the settled community. Traveller men have 3.7 times the mortality of the males in the general population. Travellers are identified as a hard-to-reach group and Traveller men particularly so. Traveller men have rarely participated in the research studies on health and health service utilization, and the results of this study, in which Traveller men participated in three focus groups, are therefore of particular interest. The Traveller men, in discussing health, related it to the absence of specific illnesses and conditions, expressing a negative and a physical concept of health. The results of the study provide evidence for the role of social constructions of masculinity in determining the health and help-seeking behaviour of Traveller men, but also the influence of wider social determinants such as ethnicity and social status. The futility of approaches to health promotion that comprise simplistic health information/education interventions is outlined in this context. The study presents a challenge to both address hegemonic versions of masculinity and discrimination based on ethnic status, and rather than challenge the behaviour of men or of health services that they come into contact with, to changing the conditions of Traveller men's lives.

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