Sex stratification and health lifestyle: consequences for men's and women's perceived health

J Health Soc Behav. 1994 Jun;35(2):161-78.


A representative national sample of 2,031 adults aged 18 to 90 was interviewed by telephone in 1990. Results showed that men report better health than women, but that the gap closes with age. We argue that a gender difference in labor and lifestyles explains sex differences in perceived health across the life course: gender inequality in paid and unpaid work and the subjective experience of inequality disadvantage women, whereas lifestyle disadvantages men. Women are less likely to be employed, and are more likely to work part-time, have lower incomes and more economic hardship, and to do more unpaid domestic labor than men, all of which except domestic labor are associated with poor health. Domestic labor improves health, up to doing 60 percent of the housework. Women also have more distress and fewer subjective work rewards, both of which are associated with poor health. If women had the same levels of paid work, household income, economic hardship, work rewards, and distress as men, their health would equal that of men's and surpass it by age 59. Although we expected to find an overwhelming male disadvantage in lifestyle, we did not. Men are more likely than women to walk and to exercise strenuously, both of which are associated with good health. If women's labor and leisure-time physical activity equalled men's, women over the age of 54 would experience better health than men. Men's lifestyle disadvantage comes from their greater tendency to smoke and to be overweight, both of which are associated with poor health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Household Work
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Disclosure
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking
  • Social Class
  • Stress, Psychological