November 13, 2015 | News | New Publication

Gender Differences in Health and Disability

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Women in developed countries live longer than men, but on average they have poorer health and more disabilities. Max Planck India Fellow Nandita Saikia investigates whether these differences also apply to men and women in India.

For her study, published in the Open Access Online Journal PLOS ONE, she used the WHO Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) on India carried out in 2007. She analyzed the data of close to 11.000 questionnaires filled out by respondents aged 18 and older. She calculated the prevalence of self-rated health and self-reported disability separately for men and women, measured the gender differences in total life expectancy, life expectancy lived with disability, and the proportion of life spent with a disability at various adult ages. She also calculated the net effect of gender on self-rated health after having adjusted the effects of demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

She found out that women reported higher incidences of poor health and disability than men. She also observed a large gender gap in disability across all ages but widest in age groups younger than 60: Women systematically had a higher a prevalence of severe and extreme disability, such as in mobility, cognition, and in vision. All of these findings were independent of demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

“It is very important to examine the gender dimension in health in India, since gender plays a crucial role from birth to death, and from nutrition to health-care service utilizations in India,” says Nandita Saikia. She sees several possible explanations for the gender gap. That women have a higher life expectancy may be one. That female ailments tend to be less lethal (though they suffer more) may be another. “We don't really know yet, where these differences are coming from,” says Nandita Saikia. “In India, too, life expectancy has increased a lot over the past decades and it‘s therefore crucial to know more about it in order to take appropriate preventive political measures and to be able to estimate future healthcare needs. The problem might be more prevalent among women who are marginalized, i.e. women who live alone, who are widowed and who come from lower socio-economic subgroups. It‘s absolutely necessary to investigate this aspect further.”

Nandita Saikia is assistant professor at the Centre for Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, and a Max Planck India Fellow in the MPIDR’s Laboratory of Demographic Data. Nandita Saikia was a guest researcher in the Laboratory of Demographic Data of the MPIDR in 2009 and 2010. She was also a student at the International Max Planck Research School for Demography in Rostock (IMPRSD) during the winter semesters of 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.

Nandita Saikia’s regular research stays at the MPIDR are funded by the Max Planck India mobility grant open to qualified and promising Indian post docs of up to 35 years of age who already have gained a sound scientific reputation. Scientists receiving the grant must spend at least one month a year at a Max Planck Institute over a period of four years. The mobility grant provides travel funds by the Max Planck Society and the Indian Department of Science and Technology. 

More Information

Original Publication: Gender Differentials in Self-Rated Health and Self-Reported Disability among Adults in India, PLOS ONE, November 4, 2015DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141953

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.