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Gender and health: reassessing patterns and explanations


  • McDonough, Peggy
  • Walters, Vivienne


Recent research on gender and health challenges the prevailing notion of women's generalized health disadvantage by revealing a more variable pattern of gender differences in health. As such differences come to be comprehended as more complex than previously thought, there is a need to reassess the pathways linking gender and health. Using data from a Canadian national probability sample, we examine: (1) gender differences in distress, self-rated health, chronic conditions, restricted activity and heavy drinking; and (2) the role of gender-based differential exposure and vulnerability to chronic stress and life events in explaining observed differences. We find that women report more distress and chronic conditions than men, but gender differences are reversed for heavy drinking, and negligible for self-rated health and restricted activity. Although women reported more chronic stress and life events, their greater exposure accounted for only some of the gender disparity in health, and only for distress. Differential vulnerability to stressors played no role in explaining gender differences in health. These findings raise questions about a gendered, generalized health response to the vicissitudes of life and suggest the need for further theoretical and empirical exploration of "gendered" experiences and their pathways to health.

Suggested Citation

  • McDonough, Peggy & Walters, Vivienne, 2001. "Gender and health: reassessing patterns and explanations," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(4), pages 547-559, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:52:y:2001:i:4:p:547-559

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