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Research Findings: Gender

It is often believed that women experience more ill health than men, but men die younger.  A core theme in the Twenty-07 Study is to investigate whether this is true and to develop an understanding of why there are sex differences in health. 

In the Twenty-07 Study our research on gender and health can be grouped into two themes:

Sex differences in health and explanations for them

Gender differences in health:  are things really as simple as they seem? 
In developed countries, men die earlier than women, yet females have poorer health than men. Examining data from the Twenty-07 cohort and another dataset we found the direction and size of sex differences in health vary by symptom, condition and life stage.  Poorer female health is only consistently found across all ages for mental distress and is far less apparent, or indeed reversed, for several physical symptoms and conditions. The topic of gender differences in health warrants periodic re-examination.

Do women exaggerate health problems?
Although women live longer than men it has been observed that they tend to report higher rates of illness.  This study investigated whether this was because women were more likely to talk about their health problems than men, however we found that women were no more likely than men to report long-term illness or mention ‘minor’ or mental health problems.

Are women more likely to consult their GP than men?
For similar health problems, women were no more likely than men to visit their GP or to over-rate or over-react to severity of symptoms for any type of condition once recognised, except for mental health problems.

Gap in gender-related experiences and health between women in early and late mid-life
Comparing women within the same geographical area born 20 years apart (women in the 1930s and 1950s cohorts) substantial differences in gender-related attitudes, experiences and health were found. The findings demonstrate the importance of taking more account of the broader social, historical and political context when researching the relationship between gender and health.

Summary papers...

Effects of masculinity and femininity on health

Men with higher ‘femininity’ scores have healthier hearts
We found men had more feminine traits such as being affectionate, understanding, sympathetic, and compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others, had reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). These results suggest that social concepts of gender influence the risk of ill health from CHD.

Sex, gender orientation, gender role attitudes and mental health in three generations
Both men and women had higher levels of suicidal thoughts in early adulthood than in older ages.  In early adulthood women were at higher risk of suicidal thoughts than men, but this was unrelated to scores of ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’.  In early middle age higher ‘masculinity’ scores among men and women were associated with fewer suicidal thoughts.  By contrast, having more ‘traditional’ views on male and female gender roles was positively associated with suicidal thoughts. 

Perceptions of ‘being a man’ and gender roles among older men
In this qualitative study we identified the variety of ways in which older men perceive masculinity and gender roles in their daily lives and how these perceptions differ between different groups of men, which will be useful for developing more effective health promotion strategies.

‘Masculine’, ‘feminine’ identities and class differences in smoking among men and women
Previous research tells us that patterns of smoking by class, gender and gender role identities may differ markedly across generations. Data from the Twenty-07 study supports this where class trends in smoking were more apparent in women born in the 1930s and 1950s than 1970s with greater rates of smoking among manual social classes.  Having a more ‘feminine’ identity almost doubled the chances of being a smoker among women born in the 1950s.

Gender and health
Regardless of the influence of age and social class on health, women appear to experience poorer health compared to men.  In this study relationships between several health indicators and ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ scores in both men and women were investigated.  We suggest that differences in health between the sexes may, in part, be due to an association between ‘femininity’ and several indicators of poor health and ‘masculinity’ with several, but all, indicators of good health in both men and women. 

Summary papers...