Sex differences in functional limitations and the role of socioeconomic factors: a multi-cohort analysis

Lancet Healthy Longev. 2021 Dec;2(12):e780-e790. doi: 10.1016/S2666-7568(21)00249-X.

Abstract

Background: Women are more likely to have functional limitations than are men, partly because of greater socioeconomic disadvantage. However, how sex differences vary by severity of functional limitations remains unclear. We examined sex differences in functional limitations, with attention to socioeconomic factors and severity of limitations.

Methods: Longitudinal data on limitations in basic activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) and mobility activities were drawn from 62 375 participants from 14 countries. For ADL, IADL, and mobility, participants were categorised based on number of limited activities (0, 1, 2, or ≥3). Sex differences in limitations in four birth cohorts (1895-1929, 1930-38, 1939-45, and 1946-60) were analysed before and after adjustment for socioeconomic factors (education and labour force status).

Findings: The prevalence of IADL and ADL limitations was higher in women than in men. After adjustment for socioeconomic factors, this sex difference was attenuated. The sex difference in IADL limitations at age 75 years (in the 1895-1929 cohort) was 3·7% before adjustment for socioeconomic factors (95% CI 2·6-4·7) and 1·7% (1·1-2·2) after adjustment. For ADL, the sex difference in limitations at age 75 years (in the 1895-1929 cohort) was 3·2% (2·3-4·1) before adjustment for socioeconomic factors and 1·4% (0·9-1·8) after adjustment. Sex differences in mobility limitations (16·1%, 95% CI 14·4-17·7) remained after adjustment for socioeconomic factors (14·3%, 12·7-15·9). After age 85 years, women were more likely to have three or more IADL or mobility limitations and men were more likely to have one or two limitations.

Interpretation: Socioeconomic factors largely explain sex differences in IADL and ADL limitations but not mobility. Sex differences in mobility limitations in midlife are important targets for future research and interventions.

Funding: National Institute on Aging, UK National Institute for Health Research, European Commission, and US Social Security Administration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mobility Limitation*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Socioeconomic Factors