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Gender inequalities in health: Social position, affective disorders and minor physical morbidity


  • Popay, Jennie
  • Bartley, Mel
  • Owen, Charlie


Research has consistently reported a female excess of minor physical morbidity and affective disorders compared to men. Using data from a national cross sectional survey of British women and men aged 18-59, this paper explores three prominent explanations for these patterns: that the female excess is due to problems associated with menstruation and the menopause; that it is 'caused' by the social positions which women occupy in contemporary western societies; and that the excess of affective disorders is 'caused' by women's social positions but that their higher rate of physical illness is psychosomatic in origin. The analysis presented here suggests that problems with menstruation and the menopause cannot explain gender inequalities in minor illness. Similarly the argument that the female excess of minor physical illness is psychosomatic is not supported, indeed, there is evidence that women's experience of minor physical illness may 'cause' their higher rates of affective disorders. Finally, with a few exceptions, the relationship between minor illness and four dimensions of social positions--marital status, employment status, social class and income--were broadly the same for women and men but in each social position category, women report higher rates of both types of ill health than men. It is concluded that present measures of these social positions do not capture the differing experiences of women and men and that more gender sensitive measures are needed if gender inequalities in minor illness are to be understood.

Suggested Citation

  • Popay, Jennie & Bartley, Mel & Owen, Charlie, 1993. "Gender inequalities in health: Social position, affective disorders and minor physical morbidity," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 21-32, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:36:y:1993:i:1:p:21-32

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    Cited by:

    1. Caroli, Eve & Weber-Baghdiguian, Lexane, 2016. "Self-reported health and gender: The role of social norms," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 220-229.
    2. Jatrana, Santosh & Crampton, Peter, 2009. "Affiliation with a primary care provider in New Zealand: Who is, who isn't," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 91(3), pages 286-296, August.
    3. Koopmans, Gerrit T. & Lamers, Leida M., 2007. "Gender and health care utilization: The role of mental distress and help-seeking propensity," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(6), pages 1216-1230, March.
    4. Sweeting, Helen & Hunt, Kate, 2014. "Adolescent socio-economic and school-based social status, health and well-being," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 39-47.


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