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Gaps in knowledge: Tracking and explaining gender differences in health information seeking


  • Manierre, Matthew J.


Self-directed health information seeking has become increasingly common in recent years, yet there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that females are more likely to engage in information seeking than males. Previous research has largely ignored the significance of this difference as both an empirical and a theoretical finding. The current study has two goals, seeking to track this sex gap over time and to test explanations for its existence. The three explanations tested are based in past findings of gendered division of childcare labor, gendered reactivity to illness, and gendered perceived risk of illness. These were tested using multiple dependent variables from both repeated cross sectional data and 2012 data from the Health Information Trends Survey (HINTS). Results show that females are significantly more likely to look for cancer information, information in general, and information over the Internet over time than males, though the gap may be closing in the case of cancer information. The three explanations also received little clear support though perceived risk of getting cancer acted as a mediator through which men may be less likely to look for cancer information. Based on this analysis it is clear that a sex gap in information seeking is present and theories of masculinity and health may hold promise in some contexts but additional explanations are needed.

Suggested Citation

  • Manierre, Matthew J., 2015. "Gaps in knowledge: Tracking and explaining gender differences in health information seeking," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 151-158.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:128:y:2015:i:c:p:151-158
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.01.028

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Wyke, Sally & Hunt, Kate & Ford, Graeme, 1998. "Gender differences in consulting a general practitioner for common symptoms of minor illness," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 46(7), pages 901-906, April.
    2. Rooks, Ronica N. & Wiltshire, Jacqueline C. & Elder, Keith & BeLue, Rhonda & Gary, Lisa C., 2012. "Health information seeking and use outside of the medical encounter: Is it associated with race and ethnicity?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 176-184.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ruben L Bach & Alexander Wenz, 2020. "Studying health-related internet and mobile device use using web logs and smartphone records," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 15(6), pages 1-20, June.
    2. Seçkin, Gül, 2020. "Expansion of Parson's sick role into cyberspace: Patient information consumerism and subjective health in a representative sample of U.S. internet users," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 247(C).
    3. Rachael Piltch‐Loeb & Brian J. Zikmund‐Fisher & Victoria A. Shaffer & Laura D. Scherer & Megan Knaus & Angie Fagerlin & David M. Abramson & Aaron M. Scherer, 2019. "Cross‐Sectional Psychological and Demographic Associations of Zika Knowledge and Conspiracy Beliefs Before and After Local Zika Transmission," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 39(12), pages 2683-2693, December.


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