Gender differences in structural and behavioral determinants of health: an analysis of the social production of health

Soc Sci Med. 1999 May;48(9):1221-35. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00421-3.


This paper explores aspects of the social production of health by focussing on the ways in which levels of health are shaped by structures of social inequality and behaviors or 'lifestyles'. We address two questions: What is the relative importance of the social, structural and behavioral determinants of health? And, are there gender differences in the determinants of health? These questions are explored using multiple regression analyses of data from the 1994 Canadian National Population Health Survey. Two measures of health are used: subjective health status and the Health Utilities Index (a measure of functional health status). By structural determinants we refer to age, family structure, main activity, education, occupation, income and social support. Behavioral determinants include lifestyle factors related to smoking, drinking, weight and physical activity. Findings indicate that the structures of social inequality are the most important determinants of health acting both independently and through their influence on the behavioral determinants of health. There are very real differences in the factors that predict women's and men's health. For women, social structural factors appear to play a more important role in determining health. Being in the highest income category, working full-time and caring for a family and having social support are more important predictors of good health for women than men. Smoking and alcohol consumption are more important determinants of health status for men than women, while body weight and being physically inactive are more important for women than men. Our findings suggest the value of models which include a wide range of structural and behavioral variables and affirm the importance of looking more closely at gender differences in the determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors