Gender and Health Inequality

Reed, Jen’nan Ghazal and Ridget K. Gorman. 2010. “Gender and Health Inequality.” Annual
Review of Sociology. Vol.36, pp.371‐386.

Key Phrases Defined:

morbidity – physical illness

mortality – death

health disparities – inequality in health trends

General Summary

This review:

  • Synthesizes gender differences in US health and exam the attention each gender has received in the sociological literature on health disparities field, all over the past 30 years

Things that will be covered:

  • Major differences in men’s and women’s health in the U.S and explanations for these observed differences
  • Assess the basis for this knowledge
  • Analysis of gender in sociology and avenues for future work


  • The early to mid- 1980s was an important, critical point in the field of research and policy on gender and health
  • Must answer the question, “What is the quantity and quality of attention that gender has received in the sociological literature on health disparities since that time?”
    • Steps to answer: 1) Compare changes in research and funding to see how much support there is for research on gender and health
    • Allows the assessment of the prominence of gender in health disparities literature; allows estimate of whether or not treatment of gender has changed over the past 20 years and, if it has changed, in what way
    • Discussion is only on the U.S.
    • Concentration is on two broad areas of U.S. adult health: morbidity and mortality
    • Focus on general patterns, not differences across subgroups

Gendered Health Disparities: Patterns and Explanations


  • Physical health profiles differ between men and women, with women tending to have longer life expectancies (in developed countries) but suffering from more illness than men
  • Mortality presents the most apparent gender differences in health
  • Life expectancy in the U.S. – 80.4 years for women, 75.2 years for men
  • Mortality gap is shrinking due to men reducing smoking at a faster rate than women
  • Despite the life expectancy gap, women and men are susceptible to the same diseases; top two leading causes of death for men and women: cancer and heart disease
  • Morbidity gender differences vary more than mortality differences, gender gap depends on specific disease outcome and age
  • Men – at younger ages engage in more health-damaging behaviors than women; behaviors negatively impact them at later stages of life
  • Women – more likely to suffer from nonfatal, chronic diseases


  • Women have longer life spans than men but spend more years in poor health due to biological, socio-structural, psychosocial, and behavioral characteristics
  • Socioeconomic status is the main reason shaping men’s and women’s health differences
  • Women have more limits on their access to health-related resources because of socioeconomic reasons

Coverage of Gender and Health: Research and Publishing


  • Feminist movements and women’s health activism motivated health reformers to pay more attention to women in medical research
  • The Public Health Service Task Force on Women’s Health Issues called for more attention to how gender affects health conditions in medical research
  • Only 3% of the NIH awarded proposals examine male and female differences in health; “… [NIH] have provided relatively little support for sex differences research in their areas.” – Simon et al.


  • Of five major U.S.-based journals from 1980 to 2008 that were reviewed, 281 articles were explicitly about gender and health
  • Slightly more than half compared health profiles of men and women, 34% were focused on women’s health only, 12% focused only on men
  • Because of available data and type of funding, most research in this field is quantitative
  • Movement toward more specificity in factors that shape men’s and women’s health

New Directions

Contextualizing Gender and Health and Mixed-Methods Research

  • There are broader social, cultural, and political contexts that affect health than socioeconomic position and health-related behaviors
  • Studies find that neighborhood conditions have a bigger influence on women’s health than on men’s health
  • Mixed-method approaches – help allow research on gender and health reach wider audience
  • It is necessary to push for funding that include both quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques


  • Many changes over past 3 decades in regards to treatment of gender in sociological research on health inequalities
  • Knowledge of gender health differences has increased
  • Progress has been slow and the field almost entirely relies on quantitative-based research
  • Generalizing women’s health based on data collected on men’s health is no longer acceptable in research

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