Gender differences in health: are things really as simple as they seem?

Soc Sci Med. 1996 Feb;42(4):617-24. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(95)00335-5.


It is conventional wisdom in medical sociology and social epidemiology that in industrialized societies men die earlier than women, but that women have poorer health than men. A number of explanations for these differences have been postulated and tested (for example, different biological risks, acquired risks, reporting biases and experiences of health care). Using two recent British data sets we find that the pattern of sex differences in morbidity is more complicated than the conventional wisdom often suggests. The direction and magnitude of sex differences in health vary according to the particular symptom or condition in question and according to the phase of the life cycle. Female excess is only consistently found across the life span for psychological distress and is far less apparent, or reversed, for a number of physical symptoms and conditions. Detailed inspection of papers on gender differences published in the last decade reveals that our findings are not unique, but that a relatively undifferentiated model of consistent sex differences has nevertheless continued to predominate in the literature. We believe that the topic of gender differences in health warrants periodic re-examination.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity*
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Sex Characteristics*