Background: When consultations for all reasons are combined, women are seen to consult their general practitioners more than men through most of adult life. It is, therefore, often assumed that women are more likely to consult for every condition.
Objectives: To examine whether women report being more likely to consult a general practitioner than men when taking account of the underlying condition and various aspects of the experience of the condition consulted for.
Methods: Home-based nurse-interviews with 852 people in early middle age (39 years) and 858 in late middle age (58 years) sampled from the general population in the West of Scotland. Detailed information about current chronic conditions included general practitioner consultation and reported experience of pain frequency, pain severity, limitation to normal activities and restricted activity in the previous four weeks.
Results: Women were no more likely than men to consult a general practitioner in the previous year when experiencing the five most common groups of conditions; in addition, women were no more likely than men to consult at a given level of severity for a given condition type, except in the case of one aspect of reported experience of mental health problems.
Conclusions: The results argue against the most widely accepted explanation for gender differences in consulting, namely, that women are simply more likely to consult a general practitioner than men irrespective of underlying morbidity. Reasons for the higher rates of women consulting observed in general practice-based studies are discussed in relation to these data.