January 08, 2019 | Press Release

Men no longer the “stronger” sex

After reunification, men in East and West Germany felt healthier than women, but now that feeling has been reversed. Today, men consider themselves less healthy than women – especially in the East.

Today, men consider themselves less healthy than women - especially in the East of Germany. © sol-b / photocase.com

Rostock. The male elation is gone. At least when it comes to the self-assessment of health.

Immediately after German reunification in 1990, men in both the old and the new federal states rated their health significantly more positive than women.

During the next 25 years, the perceived health differences between women and men became smaller and smaller. By 2013 men's self-assessed health had fallen below that of women. In the East, women's lead was even more pronounced than in the West. Thus, the gender relations have reversed since the end of the GDR.

This is the result of a study that the social scientist Mine Kühn of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock has now published in the scientific journal "Social Science and Medicine – Population Health".

Satisfaction with health is not only a good measure of actual health, but, as Mine Kühn explains: "people's self-perceived state of health says a lot about their attitude to life."

For her study she used data from the representative survey "Socio-Economic Panel" (SOEP), where every year about 20,000 people in Germany answer how satisfied they are with their state of health on a scale from zero ("very dissatisfied") to 10 ("very satisfied").

Kühn analyzed data for people between the ages of 20 and 59 who stayed in either East or West Germany throughout the study period of 1990 to 2013. She differentiated respondents only by where they lived and their sex, and corrected for other influences such as income and education.

The result shows, that over time men, especially those from East Germany, considered themselves to be in worse health.

Economic uncertainty affects health

Mine Kühn takes these results seriously: "It is quite possible that the political and social changes since the fall of the Berlin Wall have created so much stress for men in the East that their health – or at least their perceived health – has suffered sustainably," says the researcher.

For example, it is known that unemployment and continuing economic insecurity increasingly lead to unhealthy behavior such as alcohol consumption and smoking.

The result that men are more affected than women may be due to the fact that women generally have a better ability to deal with psychosocial stress and in particular benefit more from their social network in difficult times.

East German men remain behind

While the East German men now have the worst perceived health values, immediately after reunification it was the East German women who were at the bottom of the list. According to MPIDR researcher Mine Kühn, this could be due to the fact that directly after reunification a lot of jobs were lost that were typically held by women.

Over the years, however, women seem to have recovered from such pressures, and the East German men became the more concerning group. This fits in with the changes in lifestyles that have been observed by other studies, says Mine Kühn: "East German women are now achieving similarly good scores in terms of higher sports activity and lower alcohol consumption compared with West German women."

The men in the East, however, did not catch up to those in the West with respect to a healthy lifestyle. East German men have the greatest risk-taking behavior of all population groups, just as they had before reunification.

About the MPIDR

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock investigates the structure and dynamics of populations. The Institute’s researchers explore issues of political relevance, such as demographic change, aging, fertility, and the redistribution of work over the life course, as well as digitization and the use of new data sources for the estimation of migration flows. The MPIDR is one of the largest demographic research bodies in Europe and is a worldwide leader in the study of populations. The Institute is part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research organization.

Original publication

Kühn, M., C. Dudel, T. Vogt and A. Oksuzyan: Trends in gender differences in health at working ages among West and East Germans. Social Science and Medicine – Population Health [First published online: 01 December 2018]. DOI 10.1016/j.ssmph.2018.100326


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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.