Influence of socioeconomic status, wealth and financial empowerment on gender differences in health and healthcare utilization in later life: evidence from India

Soc Sci Med. 2008 May;66(9):1951-62. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.01.015. Epub 2008 Mar 3.


Empirical studies from developed countries observe that women report worse health and higher healthcare utilization than men, but the health disadvantage diminishes with age; gender differences in self-rated health often vanish or are reversed in older ages. Comparable assessments of health during later life from developing countries are limited because of the lack of large-scale surveys that include older women. Our study attempts to address the shortage of developing country studies by examining gender differences in health and healthcare utilization among older adults in India. Both ordered and binary logit specifications were used to assess significant gender differences in subjective and objective health, and healthcare utilization after controlling for demographics, medical conditions, traditional indicators of socioeconomic status like education and income, and additional wealth indicators. The wealth indicators, measured by property ownership and economic independence, are regarded as financially empowering older adults to exercise greater control over their health and well-being. Data are drawn from a nationally representative decennial socioeconomic and health survey of 120,942 Indian households conducted during 1995-1996. The study sample comprises 34,086 older men and women aged >or= 60 years. Our results indicate that older women report worse self-rated health, higher prevalence of disabilities, marginally lower chronic conditions, and lower healthcare utilization than men. The health disadvantage and lower utilization among women cannot be explained by demographics and the differential distribution of medical conditions. While successive controls for education, income, and property ownership narrows the gender gap in both health and healthcare utilization, significant differentials still persist. Upon controlling for economic independence, gender differentials disappear or are reversed, with older women having equal or better health than otherwise similar men. Financial empowerment might confer older women the health advantage reflected in developed societies by enhancing a woman's ability to undertake primary and secondary prevention during the life course.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Health Status*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • India
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors