Ohio University Week 4 Gender and Health Inequalities Essay Societies give different cultural meanings to being male and being female. This gender differentiation functions as an organizing principle for communities. An example is the division of labor between men & women. This clear division is seen both in the homes and in the wider communities. While the specific nature of gender relations varies among societies, the general pattern is that women have less personal autonomy, fewer resources at their disposal, and limited influence over the decision-making processes that shape their societies and their own lives. That said, women have lower mortality rates than men, longer life expectancy and greater morbidity.
This week, pick one of the five points presented in the article: How gender influences health inequalities.pdf
Women have lower mortality rates than men, longer life expectancy, greater mobility and are over represented in health statistics
Some health problems are more commonly associated with one gender than the other
Sociological factors are as important as biology for determining gender related health inequalities
Women’s natural reproductive function has increasingly been medicalized, leading to increased need for health care
Expectations of how men and women should behave are based on social constructs and have an impact on health
Research gender and its influence on health related to your selected point in a low or middle income country and compare the differences/similarities with women in Ethiopia as portrayed in “Cutting for Stone”.
The minimum number of word for this assignment is 700
Cite all sources of information or data that are not your own using APA style.
Include a reference list in APA style at the end of your essay. You can find more information on citation here: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01…
Essay papers are submitted through Turnitin Abstract
Matthews D (2015) Sociology in nursing 3: how gender influences health
inequalities. Nursing Times; 111: 43, 21-23.
This third article in a five-part series on the relationship between sociology
and nursing practice discusses the issue of gender as a social determinant.
Health inequalities between men and women are the result of the interaction
between biology and society in terms of how society structures and influences
our lives. Men and women have different expectations and roles imposed on
them by society and this has a significant impact on health.
While a range of socio-economic factors influence health and wellbeing,
gender is of particular significance. While women have lower mortality rates
than men (Annandale, 2014), they also experience greater morbidity and are
over-represented in health statistics (White, 2013). This gives rise to the
notion that men die quicker but women are sicker (Bartley, 2004), although
recent figures show that the gender gap is closing (Box 1).
Box 1. Life expectancy
In England and Wales, between 2007-09 and 2011-13, life expectancy for
men increased from 78.1 years to 79.3 years, and for women from 82.2 years
to 83.0 years. As such, the gender gap reduced from 4.1 years to 3.7 years
Healthy life expectancy in England was 63.4 years for men and 64.1 years for
women in 2010-12; this gender gap is less than for life expectancy in general,
meaning men will have more years of good health relative to overall life
expectancy than women
Source: Office for National Statistics (2014a, 2014b)
In addition to overall mortality and morbidity, certain health and wellbeing
issues are more commonly associated with one gender. For example,
dementia, depression and arthritis are more common in women, while men
are more prone to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and suicide (Broom,
2012). The popular biomedical interpretation would argue that variations in
health and lifespan can be accounted for by inherent biological differences
between men and women. This has led to gender-specific medicine using
scientific analysis to explain variations in the physiological differences
between the sexes (Annandale, 2014). However, scientific analyses can be
criticised for overemphasising differences associated with gender – in
biological terms there is less difference between male and female than
popular belief suggests.
Although it influences health, biology does not determine it (Annandale, 2014).
Health inequalities between the sexes are the result of the interaction between
biology and society in terms of how society structures and influences our lives.
This article discusses the issue of gender as a social determinant and
demonstrates that the way society shapes mens and womens lives has a
significant impact on their health. It also examines the extent to which
sociological theory can be used to explain health patterns associated with
Society and gender
There have been a range of theories as to how and why society influences
gender inequalities, although there are broad agreements about potential
influences. One of these is the gender-specific roles prevalent in society and
societys response to these roles.
Women are the main providers of informal care for children, disabled and
older people and, some feminists argue, men. The effects of this role can
include reduced sleep, less leisure time and increased risk of poverty for
women who are full-time carers. All of these can have serious negative
consequences for both physical and mental health. Indeed, it has been
suggested that the potential impact of the caring role on mental wellbeing may
explain the higher rates of depression in women of childbearing age
Womens role as carers has been justified as a result of their reproductive
function. However, while this is determined by biology, the way it is
understood is socially constructed and can affect their experience of health.
Womens natural reproductive function has increasingly been medicalised. For
example, mood changes around the time of menstruation are no longer
viewed as a natural period of hormonal imbalance resulting in premenstrual
tension (PMT), but is now a medical syndrome (premenstrual syndrome)
(Morrall, 2009). This medicalisation means women consult doctors and attend
hospital more often (White, 2013) than men.
Since their bodies have been constructed as a medical issue to a greater
degree than mens, women are scrutinised and regulated more by medical
professionals. This, along with their role as the main providers of care, are
significant reasons for their over representation within health statistics.
Outside of childbearing age women tend to attend hospital at the same rate as
men (Broom, 2012), and when men and women are exposed to the same
stressful non-gender specific situations they have broadly the same rates of
depression (Nazroo et al, 1997). When variables are no longer a factor, or are
controlled, gender-related health inequalities reduce.
Masculinity and femininity
Expectations of how men and women should behave are influenced by the
concepts of femininity and masculinity, and have consequences for health and
wellbeing. However, these concepts are social constructs; what it means to be
a man or woman is culturally and historically specific. The emphasis on
women as the main providers of care is a construction of femininity by society,
while societal pressures on women in terms of appearance can be identified
as contributing to the greater prevalence of eating disorders among young
women, as well as the reduced levels of physical activity in adolescent girls.
Constructions of masculinity can have similarly negative consequences for
men. Perhaps in an effort to prove themselves, young males have a
tendency to be less risk averse than young women, making them more likely
to take part in contact sports, excessive alcohol consumption and dangerous
driving. As a result males have higher rates of accidental and non-accidental
injuries (Broom, 2012).
Further, it is argued that women have more mental health problems but are
more likely to express their feelings and seek support, while men are more
likely to internalise anger, turning to substance and alcohol abuse for relief,
potentially resulting in drug abuse or even suicide (White, 2013).
Ideas of masculinity and femininity influence choice of occupation, and the
notable gender divisions within the labour force also have health
consequences. For example, manual occupations – some of which are
potentially dangerous – are predominantly performed by men, which exposes
them to higher levels of risk. Indeed, of the 350,000 occupational deaths that
occurr globally every year, 90 per cent are men (Mathers et al, 2009).
Social divisions and gender
Although gender-specific roles have significant health consequences, gender
does not operate alone, but interacts with other factors. This can be illustrated
by looking at the impact on women of socioeconomic status and inequality.
While men have often been the subjects of studies on the impact of
socioeconomic inequality on health, there is no reason to assume that such
inequality matters less to women than it does for men. This has the potential
to exacerbate health inequalities between men and women, but can lead to
inequalities and different experiences of health between people of differing
backgrounds within each gender.
Many women take career breaks to raise children or care for other family
members, while others work part-time to fulfil their caring responsibilities – as
a result, women tend to have a lower socioeconomic status than men.
Although data regarding the links between their socioeconomic status and
health is relatively limited (Annandale, 2014), it is possible to surmise that
more women are located at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale than
men, which would contribute to health inequalities between men and women.
These effects are particularly acute for single women with children. Although
some women who are married or in a stable relationship with a working
partner may be of a lower socio-economic status than their partner, they
benefit from the material advantages provided by their partners
socioeconomic position. This explains why there are differences in the impact
of economic inequality on health among women; there are also differences in
life expectancy for women in different socioeconomic groups (Box 2).
Box 2. Effects of socioeconomic status
Life expectancy in women varies depending on their socioeconomic status:
Class 1 (highest classification): 83.9 years
Class 3: 82.7 years
Class 7 (lowest classification): 79.7 years
The difference between classes 1 and 7 is 4.2 years.
Source: Office for National Statistics (2011)
Theoretical explanations: Marxism
Social theory can provide a context in which to interpret health patterns.
Feminism is a broad theory, offering a variety of perspectives from which to
understand womens position in society. In general, feminists argue that
society disadvantages women by constraining them and limiting their
opportunities. This is enforced through the domination of beliefs, theories and
ideas that support and justify womens subordinate position relative to men.
While there were significant advances towards equality during the 20th
century in advanced capitalist societies, feminist theory argues that women
are still exploited by societys structural organisation combined with
embedded cultural attitudes and ideas that function together to exert social
control over women (Turner, 2013; McDonnell et al, 2009; Rogers, 2009).
Although, like feminism, Marxism is characterised by considerable
interpretation, all varieties of Marxism are critical of capitalism. The goal of
capitalism is the increasing accumulation of profit, which Marxist theorists
believe originates from the exploitation of the labour force – primarily by paying
them less than the value of what they produce. Capitalist societies are
characterised by significant economic inequality and oppression, with major
inequality in wealth between the mass of the labour force and those in control
of societys economic resources. Marxists argue that social institutions such
as the government, family, media and health system are influenced by the
needs of capitalism, and operate to support the continued accumulation of
profit to maintain this unequal situation (Miliband, 2004; Callinicos, 1999).
They believe that societys social organisation benefits capitalism at the
expense of the majority.
Utilising both theories simultaneously, a Marxist-feminist perspective
emphasises that womens position of subordination is largely the result of the
interaction between patriarchy – the dominance of men – and the needs of
Many feminist perspectives have drawn on the medicalisation of womens
bodies as an illustration of social control by a patriarchal medical profession,
arguing that most of those in a position of influence are male and use
scientific knowledge formulated largely by men. Feminists believe that men
also primarily control the reproductive process, including access to
contraception, pregnancy and childbirth, and reproductive technology. Women
must submit themselves to male authority and knowledge, reducing their
ability to make their own informed decisions (Abbot et al, 2008); their
submission to such medical intervention reinforces female characteristics of
passivity and dependence (White, 2013) and can be seen as an illustration of
patriarchal social control over women.
Scientific understanding of womens bodies with regard to reproduction has
historically had consequences for their social role (Doyal, 1985). Science is
often used as a tool to explain the natural world, and its increasing application
to the reproductive process reinforces both the assumption that womens
nurturing role is natural and the expectation that they take on the role of carer.
Marxist feminists believe this has many advantages for the economy.
Since the advent of capitalism there has been a division of labour between
work and home (Zaretsky, 1986). Labour performed at work is valued, while
that performed in the home – domestic tasks still largely undertaken by women
– has no economic reward or value. Marxist feminists believe that domestic
labour performed by women, including childcare, provides the capitalist
system with an army of unpaid labourers whose activities enable family
members – particularly men – to work, which subsequently contributes to
This article has illustrated how gender influences the distribution of health.
Instead of reducing the health of men and women to a matter of pure biology,
we need to consider societys impact in terms of the roles it confers on them,
as well as its expectations of their behaviour, because such social constraints
exacerbate the health divisions between men and women. However, while
gender has a significant effect on health inequalities, these are not simply
differences between men and women. Gender-related factors also lead to
significant divisions within each gender, illustrating that the impact of gender
varies as a result of other social factors.
Abbot P et al (2008) The medicalisation of reproduction. In: Earle S, Letherby G (eds) The
Sociology of Healthcare: A Reader for Health Professionals. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Annandale E (2014) The Sociology of Health and Medicine: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge:
Bartley M (2004) Health Inequality: An Introduction to Theories, Concepts and Methods. Cambridge:
Bebbington P (1996) The origins of sex differences in depressive disorder: bridging the gap.
International Review of Psychiatry; 8: 4, 295-332.
Broom D (2012) Gender and health. In: Germov J (ed) Second Opinion: An Introduction to Health
Sociology. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Callinicos A (1999) The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx. London: Bookmarks.
Doyal L (1985) The Political Economy of Health. London: Pluto Press.
Mathers C et al (2009) Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to Major
McDonnell O et al (2009) Social Theory, Health and Healthcare. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Miliband R (2004) Marxism and Politics. London: The Merlin Press.
Morrall P (2009) Sociology and Health: An Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.
Nazroo JY et al (1997) Gender differences in the onset of depression following a shared life event:
a study of couples. Psychological Medicine; 27: 1, 9-19.
Office for National Statistics (2014b) Life Expectancy at Birth and Age 65 by Local Areas in the
United Kingdom, 2006-08 to 2010-12.
Office for National Statistics (2014a) Healthy Life Expectancy at Birth for Upper Tier Local
Authorities: England 2009-11.
Office for National Statistics (2011) Trends in Life Expectancy by the National Statistics SocioEconomic Classification 1982-2006.
Rogers MF (2009) Contemporary feminist theory. In: Ritzer G, Smart B (eds) Handbook of Social
Theory. London: Sage.
Turner JH (2013) Theoretical Sociology: 1830 to the Present. London: Sage.
White K (2013) An Introduction to the Sociology of Health and Illness. London: Sage Publications.
Zaretsky E (1986) Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life. New York: Harper Collins.
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