The four explanations for health inequalities that are used when explaining gender inequalities in health

“Gender refers to the way men and women think and behave as a result of learning in society” (Senior, M et al (1998) Pg 129)

Gender is best explained as how a person fits into society and its expectations of that individual as either male or female, sex is the biological difference. The way we are raised has the potential to affect health due to the values and beliefs that are contained by that person. Whether an individual is born male or female there is the potential for their gender to affect their health status.

Within society it is known that women live longer than men, men are more likely to have a heart attack than women are. Gender can be a result of health inequalities, and it cannot be separated from social class. Below four different explanations for health inequalities are explained and evaluated in relation to gender.

Biological/genetic explanation

This explanation focuses on the ways in which women suffer due to biological conditions related to “pregnancy and childbirth, contraception and abortion, menstruation and the menopause, cervical, ovarian and breast cancer” (Senior.

M et al (1998) Pg 139). This therefore means that women are more likely to visit the doctor than a man as they suffer from a whole other varity of illness due to the above. This explanation also argues that women are stronger than men and therefore, live longer.

There has been other research which shows if the number of visits a woman makes to the doctor is taken away there is no difference between male and female visits to the doctor.

It is not that men visit the doctor less; it is due to the female suffering from a different range of conditions. As the women lives longer than the male they will also visit the doctor in relation to diseases associated with old age. There is a problem with this explanation as it only deals with a proportion of illness and is limited due to that. Also learn how to behave in class

Social selection explanation

The social selection explanation for health inequalities believes that ill health results in a fall to the bottom of society and a lower social class. This argument can be supported by those people who are single parents as it clearly becomes more difficult for these individuals to secure employment. This then makes it more likely that they will have a lower occupational grouping and lower pay which puts them into a lower social class.

Ill health influences social mobility which in turn influences the class which an individual belongs to. Social mobility is how all individuals have the ability to move up and down the social scale. For example if a man loses their job it is likely that individual will fall from the middle class to a lower class. Female is the gender which suffer more illness, this is turn means they cannot work and unemployment leaves that person with no or little money and a lower social class. Although due to illness associated with the female employment is made extremely difficult.

Wadsworth 1995 found evidence to support the social selection explanation to health inequalities. It was suggested by Wadsworth “that boys who had experienced serious illness in childhood were more likely to be downwardly mobile by the age of 26” (Senior, M et al (1998) Pg 89). Just because a person is healthy does not mean they will move up a social class, ill health does not make people move down the social scale if that person is already in a high class.

Cultural/behavioural explanation

The cultural explanation to health inequalities stresses that it is the lifestyle choice of the individual which influences their health. Ill health is a consequence of behaviour, for example poor eating habits and diet, smoking, lack of exercise and drinking alcohol. It is argued that these inequalities will be reduced if and when the individual makes healthier lifestyle choices. The lifestyle of an individual is believed to be a result of cultural choices made by different social classes and ethnic groups. For example those who are working class are more likely to eat white bread than professionals do and the manual workers consume twice as much as the working class.

This explanation would put forward the argument that men are more likely to be risk takers, for example smoking, consuming alcohol, and taking more dangerous jobs than women. “OPCS 1990 found that the death rate for lung cancer deaths amongst women was 50% higher in 1988 compared to 1974” (Henshaw, R et al (1999) Pg 52) in the same study it was recognised that men still smoked and drank more than females although the health risks were higher for women.

It would be an assumption to say women lead worse lifestyles than men as this may be based on facts and figures which are not up to date and current. In the past women would have been at home looking after the children as that was their lifestyle choice, they may have became depressed due to be isolated in the home environment, this can lead to illness. It is more common for women to go out and work and look after the children this can be more stressful on those individuals.

Facts and figures can be misinterpreted as women tend to visit the doctor for their children and elderly family members not only them self which may make it look like the female patient makes more use of the doctors services. These factors need to be taken into consideration. Statistically more women smoke to deal with stress and to loose weight. It recent years women are binge drinking a lot more this has a worse effect on their health than that of a man.

Materialist/structural explanation

The structural explanation to health inequalities believes that factors outside individuals control are what affect life and health chances. For example an issue relating to the type of employment an individual has or unemployment is vital as is the individuals place in society such as their home ownership, income and living conditions. It has been found that unemployment is linked to poverty and this leads to higher levels of illness within society.

This in turn leads to poor living conditions and a poor diet, another example of how outside factors can affect our health is the type of industries which some individuals may be employed as these conditions are dusty and noisy which can cause respiratory diseases and deafness. Women are ore likely to be unemployed and at home looking after the children this can lead to social isolation for the female, women do not report a lot of illness as they do not have the time to be sick as they are the main carers within the family. Women’s illnesses are linked to their role as carers within the family environment.

Women have been protected from dangerous jobs and situations through the laws of the land, in the past this may not have been untrue although society is changing as is the traditional roles of male and female. It can be argued that not all of those who live in poorer conditions will suffer from greater ill health. This approach does not explore why some individuals in the same situation suffer more ill health. Gender roles within society are shifting and this approach may be considered dated. It focuses on the traditional gender roles and does not relate men to unemployment and women to paid work.

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