Max Planck Research Group

Gender Gaps in Health and Survival

Research Area

Gender Differences in Health and Survival

Research evidence accumulated over many decades has revealed an apparent contradiction between the health and survival of men and women. Although women currently live longer than men everywhere in the world, women tend to fare worse on a wide range of health measures. This phenomenon is often referred to as the male-female health-survival paradox.

Our research across developed countries has so far shown that there are consistent gender differences in health and survival. It has also provided little support for most of our initial hypotheses about these gender inequalities, such as male underreporting of health problems and medication use, male reluctance to seek medical advice around stressful times, and small or no female survival advantages in populations with high female fertility and a healthy male lifestyle (the Utah population).

Current research carried out by the Gender Gaps in Health and Survival research group is expanding to investigate how universal gender differences are in health and survival in populations with historical developments and political, economic, and health-care systems, and cultures that are very different from those of contemporary Western societies. To better understand whether biological differences or differences in behavioral and social characteristics are more important for explaining gender inequalities in health and mortality, we also focus on gender differences in health and mortality across different subgroups within a population (namely, migrant groups, social strata, and civil status groups), and across groups with different reproduction histories.

The exceptionally rich high-quality registers available in Scandinavian countries enable us to examine the direction and magnitude of gender differences in health and survival across ages (including very old populations) and across time periods. Using longitudinal surveys previously conducted in Denmark and linked to the register data, we are able to continue our research line by tackling gender differences in seeking medical advice and treatment among survey participants in comparison with non-respondents and drop-outs from the survey. Using this unique data resource, we can further investigate whether the patterns of drop-out from the survey and of treatment-seeking behavior vary across individuals with different individual characteristics, such as personality traits and happiness levels; and whether health changes after a spousal loss are smaller among people with an optimistic view on life, and how these effects vary between men and women.

The project will deepen our understanding of behavioral and social factors, and will in turn help to explain gender differences in health and mortality at older ages. The finding that the male-female health-survival paradox is universal in human populations indicates the importance of biological mechanisms in explaining male-female differences in health and survival.

Projects of this Research Area:

  • Gender Differences in Health and Mortality: Comparative Approach Project details
  • Gender Differences in Health and Mortality: Role of Biology, Behavior, and Social Factors Project details
  • Gender, Hospitalization, and Mortality Project details