Background: Gender differences in functioning among older adults have been well documented. Differential reporting of functional problems by men and women may contribute to this observed difference. The purpose of this study was to examine the gender differences in functional ability by comparing self-reported function to observed performance of physical tasks.
Methods: In 1988, 1,458 men and women ages 71 and older from the New Haven site of the Established Populations for the Epidemiologic Study of the Elderly (EPESE) self-reported activities of daily living (ADL) disability and functional limitations. Subjects' ability to perform 7 tasks was observed. Gender differentials in "accurate" and "inaccurate" reporting were determined by examining comparable self-reports and performance measures. Logistic regression determined how much of the gender differential in self-reported function was explained by performance ability.
Results: More women than men reported disability and functional limitation, and women had poorer performance scores for every task. Compared to similar performance items, self-reports of function were accurate for the majority of men and women. However, among those who inaccurately reported function, more men than women underreported disability and more women than men overreported disability. Overall performance explains all of the gender difference in ADL disability and most of the difference in functional limitation.
Conclusions: These results suggest that both men and women generally report their disability accurately, and women's higher prevalence of reported functional problems is probably a reflection of true disability for most disability measures.