Gender Health

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Gender and sex are usually used interchangeably in our everyday conversation. However, the two are not the same and it is important to distinguish between both of them, for clarity.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) sex is defined as “either of the two divisions of organic beings distinguished as male and female respectively.”  Sex specifically refers to the biological differences that occur between men and women such as differences in chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external reproductive organs. 

Gender, on the other hand, is defined in Oxford’s as “a euphemism for the sex of a human being, often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes.”  Gender specifically refers to the factors in the environment that determine what it means in society to be either male or female. To simplify it even further, sex is the biological group into which we are born and gender includes what it means within society to be labeled as either male or female and the corresponding roles that go along with the labels, that is "Male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories. Gender is a basic social stratify that both interacts with and is influenced by many other aspects of society.  This social stratification between the sexes, leads to differential access to all parts of society whether it is jobs, health care, or discriminatory policies.  This differential treatment that men and women experience manifests itself differently among the sexes and could help to explain some of the variations in health that we see among men and women.  Societal and biology factors play a role in helping to explain some of the differences the impact of gender health care has on male and female.  Women and men do not seem to suffer from the same types of diseases nor do not react in the same manner.  One of the most basic statistics that exemplifies this is the average life expectancy.  Base on the “National Vital Statistics reports, Vol. 51, No. 3” and I quote “In the United States, the average life expectancy for a male born in 2000 was 74.1 years”.  The average life expectancy for females at birth was 79.5.  The statistics shows that women generally live 5.4 years longer than men.  However, when it comes to illness, or morbidity, women often report higher levels of illness than men.  This results in women living longer lives but not necessarily in better health.

An interesting effect on health is the relationship of marriage, because historically marriage in society has had clearly defined gender roles. The traditional cultures see the husband as the breadwinner and wife as the caregiver/homemaker. But the institution of marriage has undergone significant changes in recent decades as women have outpaced men in education and earnings growth. These unequal gains have been accompanied by gender role reversals in both the spousal characteristics and the economic benefits of marriage. This allows for the lowering of depression on either partners and allowed for a more cohesive arrangement between both parties. This was proven by an article written by Mirowsky which stated “when marriages share the power within a relationship both the man and woman benefit from lower rates of depression”.

Pathways through which gender affects health:

Inequalities between the genders can be seen at many levels.  Some of these inequalities are biological in origin, however, the majority of these differences stem from environmental factors that act upon and affect men and women in different ways.  Inequalities can be witnessed in all aspects of life eg. (work, home environment, education, status within society, etc).  And what effect, if any, does this has on health.

Underlying all of the research that looks to analyze data on the basis of gender is the realization that biases and gender roles into which we are socialized need to...
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