Women's status and the health of women and men: a view from the States

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Jan;48(1):21-32. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00286-x.


We examined the status of women in the 50 American states in relation to women's and men's levels of health. The status of women in each state was assessed by four composite indices measuring women's political participation, economic autonomy, employment and earnings, and reproductive rights. The study design was cross-sectional and ecologic. Our main outcome measures were total female and male mortality rates, female cause-specific death rates and mean days of activity limitations reported by women during the previous month. Measures of women's status were strikingly correlated with each of these health outcomes at the state level. Higher political participation by women was correlated with lower female mortality rates (r = -0.51), as well as lower activity limitations (-0.47). A smaller wage gap between women and men was associated with lower female mortality rates (-0.30) and lower activity limitations (-0.31) (all correlations, P < 0.05). Indices of women's status were also strongly correlated with male mortality rates, suggesting that women's status may reflect more general underlying structural processes associated with material deprivation and income inequality. However, the indices of women's status persisted in predicting female mortality and morbidity rates after adjusting for income inequality, poverty rates and median household income. Associations were observed for specific causes of death, including stroke, cervical cancer and homicide. We conclude that women experience higher mortality and morbidity in states where they have lower levels of political participation and economic autonomy. Living in such states has detrimental consequences for the health of men as well. Gender inequality and truncated opportunities for women may be one of the pathways by which the maldistribution of income adversely affects the health of women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Freedom
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Politics
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Factors*
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Conditions*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women's Health*
  • Women's Rights