Do women 'over-report' morbidity? Men's and women's responses to structured prompting on a standard question on long standing illness

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Jan;48(1):89-98. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00292-5.


It is frequently observed in contemporary industrialised societies that although women live longer than men, they are sicker than men in that they report higher rates of morbidity, disability and health care use. One common element of the explanation for women's higher rates of morbidity is that there are gender differences in the way that symptoms are perceived, evaluated and acted upon. It is widely assumed that women will be more ready to report illness and to seek help and that they have greater flexibility in their lives to accommodate illness. The few studies that have examined men and women with the same conditions or symptoms are contradictory, but lend little support to this hypothesised greater propensity, yet it is still widely believed. Here we compare men's and women's answers to a global, commonly used question about chronic illness and to a series of more specific prompts and classify the conditions reported by an externally defined categorisation of severity and International Classification of Disease chapter. Contrary to the common expectation that women report higher rates of morbidity and are more ready to report mental health problems, we found: no gender differences in the initial reporting of conditions; men reported a higher proportion of their conditions in response to the initial global question; and no evidence that women were more likely to report 'trivial' or mental health conditions in response to the initial question.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Sick Role*
  • Women's Health*