Gender and Health

It has often been assumed that gender differences in health are inevitable and constant. Life expectancy, for example, is higher for women than men almost everywhere in the world. However, the extent of the gender difference in life expectancy varies greatly globally and within the same country over time. These geographic variations and rapid changes in gender differences in life expectancy illustrate the importance of the social environment in creating social inequalities in health, including inequalities by gender. Our aim is to examine whether, when and why various aspects of men’s and women's health are different, so that we can identify possible ways to improve health.

Our work is distinguished by systematic comparisons by gender. We focus on single sex samples only when there are strong theoretical, policy or practical reasons for doing so. We are investigating: how social structures, institutions and cultural expectations modify the patterning of health by sex and gender; and how the social environment and social constructions of gender influence health behaviours, use of health services, and the risk and experience of physical and mental ill-health.

We focus on health conditions (mental health, cancer, CHD, other chronic illness) and risk factors (obesity, alcohol, smoking, lack of physical activity, poor diet) which are public health priorities, impose large burdens on individuals and society, and provide illustrations of how illnesses can become gender-stereotyped. We have a strong focus on health behaviours because research, including our own, suggests that health behaviours are important for masculine and feminine identities and account for a substantial component of gender differences in morbidity and mortality.

We are using sociological understandings of gender in developing interventions to support behavioural changes, particularly in relation to overweight/obesity, physical inactivity and eating, including the award-winning Football Fans in Training programme.

Because various media sources are such important sites for portraying images of ‘appropriate’ masculinities and femininities, as well as being a common source of information of health, we also focus on film, print, TV and online media influences on health behaviours and gender identities.

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