Women’s health has significantly worsened while that of men has improved since 1990, say scientists who suggests that gender disparities in the society is causing significant harm to the well-being of young females. Researchers at Umea University and Region Norrbotten in Sweden have studied health trends among women and men aged 25 -34 from 1990-2014.
In 1990, 8.5% of women self-rated their health as being worse than peers in their own age group. In 2014, this trend increased to 20% of women. In contrast, a bigger part of the men self-rated their health as better at the end of the study period compared to the start. “In recent years, public debate has raised the issue of increased illness and sick leaves among women. Our study now shows, for the first time, that there are corresponding health trends also among young women,” said Annika Forssen, co-author of the study published in the journal PLOS One.
The researchers behind the study have, through a long- term, population-based survey, analysed answers from 1,811 people in the MONICA study in Northern Sweden. As a part of a standard health check, study participants answered a questionnaire which included questions about self- rated health. The results also showed that an increased proportion of study participants indicated obesity, anxiety and dissatisfaction with their personal economy, among both women and men. Simultaneously, the proportion of women and men with high levels of physical activity increased over the period.
“A generally worsened self-rated health among young people most likely suggests increased risk of illness both in the short and long term,” said Goran Waller, researcher at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine. “The results show that gender equality efforts, and especially the promotion of equal rights to health for men and women, need significant revisions,” Waller said. According to the study authors, possible causes for this negative health trend among young women may be increased risk of burnouts, lack of equality in one’s private life, and men’s violence against women.
Tougher working conditions in female-dominated professions such as health care may also contribute to women’s ill health. Conflicting but coinciding norm systems in society - equality and traditional gender roles - where women must fulfil expectation related to both also harm women’s health, researchers said. Women also face general societal expectations such as pressures to be both successful, socially active and physically attractive. On the other hand, in the labour market, men are still valued more highly than women despite having a lower level of education, researchers said, which may be a possible reason for the positive development among men. A more equal responsibility for children and the household is also beneficial for men’s health, researchers said.