Objectives: The primary goal of this study was to assess gender differences in various measures of health conditions, symptoms, and self-rated health among older persons by comparing brothers and sisters in a sample of unlike-sex twins.
Methods: All living pairs of unlike-sex twins born between 1906 and 1925 were identified through the Swedish Twin Registry and sent surveys assessing health and other factors. This population-based sample consisted of 605 twin pairs. Paired sample t tests were used to analyze gender differences in health-related measures, including a three-level measure of health problems based on physicians' ratings.
Results: Women had more total health conditions, not life-threatening health conditions, somewhat life-threatening cardiovascular conditions, and physical and psychological symptoms. Men had more very life-threatening health conditions and cardiovascular conditions. No gender differences were found in somewhat life-threatening health conditions, total cardiovascular conditions, or self-rated health.
Discussion: Important gender differences and similarities in health were found using an unlike-sex twin design that reduced variability due to background characteristics. This design also minimized problems caused by gender differences in survival. Research on gender and health in older persons requires more detailed approaches to address the complexity of this topic.