Study Finds Gender Inequality Has Negative Health Effects on Both Men and Women

According to new research from Florida State University, gender inequality in U.S. states is bad for everyone’s health. In her study, Patricia Homan, an assistant professor of sociology, developed a new structural sexism approach to the study of gender inequality and health. The approach goes beyond sexist mistreatment by individuals to examine how the degree of systematic gender inequality in power and resources in a society can impact people’s health.

“Researchers have known for decades that the experience of being sexually harassed or discriminated against can have a harmful effect on a woman’s health,” said Dr. Homan. “But much less is known about the broader health consequences of living in a social environment where power, resources, roles and opportunities are unequally distributed along gender lines.”

To conduct the study, Dr. Homan compiled data from multiple sources including the U.S. Census and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. Based on a sample of more than 3,300 U.S. adults, she found that at the state level structural sexism resulted in worse health outcomes for both men and women. Adults in states with the highest level of structural sexism, Utah, Wyoming, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, reported higher levels of chronic conditions, worse self-reported health, and worse physical function at age 40 and 50. Additionally, women in these states had roughly twice as many health issues and looked seven years older in terms of their health profiles as women living states with lower levels.

“The first thing we need to realize is that gender inequality in the United States is not only a human rights issue, but also a public health problem,” said Dr. Homan. “Therefore, gender equity policy is health policy.”

According to Dr. Homan, this means that policies aiming to close the gender wage gap, increase women’s political representation, protect and expand access to reproductive health services, or otherwise promote gender equity, also have the potential to improve health for all members of society.

Dr. Homan is a graduate of Princeton University where she majored in sociology. She holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. both in sociology from Duke University.

The full study, “Structural Sexism and Health in the United States: A New Perspective on Health Inequality and the Gender System,” was published in the American Sociological Review. It may be accessed here.

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