Explaining gender differences in ill-health in South Korea: the roles of socio-structural, psychosocial, and behavioral factors

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Sep;67(6):988-1001. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.05.034. Epub 2008 Jul 14.


This study examines and explains the gender disparity in health despite rapid modernization in South Korea where the social structure is still based on traditional gender relations. A nationally representative sample of 2897 men and 3286 women aged 25-64 from the 2001 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was analyzed. Health indicators included self rated health and chronic disease. Age-adjusted prevalence was computed according to a gender and odds ratios (OR) derived from logistic regression. Percentage changes in OR by inclusion of determinant variables (socio-structural, psychosocial, and behavioral) into the base logistic regression model were used to estimate the contributions to the gender gap in two morbidity measures. Results showed a substantial female excess in ill-health in both measures, revealing an increasing disparity in the older age group. Group-specific age-adjusted prevalence of ill-health showed an inverse relationship to socioeconomic position. When adjusting for each determinant, employment status, education, and depression contributed the greatest to the gender gap. After adjusting for all suggested determinants, 78% for self rated health and 86% for chronic disease in excess OR could be explained. After stratifying for age, the full model provided a complete explanation for the female excess in chronic illness, but for self rated health a female excess was still evident for the younger age group. Socio-structural factors played a crucial role in accounting for female excess in ill-health. This result calls for greater attention to gender-based health inequality stemming from socio-structural determinants in South Korea. Cross-cultural validation studies are suggested for further discussion of the link between changing gender relations and the gender health gap in morbidity in diverse settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Korea / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors