Background: We examine gender differences in health at ages 50 years and older in 11 European countries, England and the USA.
Methods: We use the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement (SHARE) for 11 Continental European countries; the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for the USA to examine gender differences in health behaviours, functioning problems, disability, disease prevalence and self-rated health.
Results: Women in all countries are more likely than men to have disabling, non-lethal conditions including functioning problems [odds ratio (OR) indicating the effect of female is 1.57-2.43], IADL difficulties (OR 1.45-2.94), arthritis (OR 1.46-2.90) and depressive symptoms (OR 1.45-3.35). On the other hand, self-reported heart disease is more common among men (OR indicating effect of female ranges from 0.43 to 0.86). These differences are not eliminated by controlling for smoking behaviour and weight. Self-reported hypertension (OR 0.72-1.53) is generally more common among women; stroke and diabetes do not show consistent sex differences. While subjective assessment of health is poorer among women, this is not true when indicators of functioning, disability and diseases are controlled.
Conclusion: There is remarkable consistency in direction of gender differences in health across these 13 countries. The size of the differences is affected in many cases by the similarity in behaviours of men and women.