Why and how is gender or age significant when we consider issues of health and illness? How might an understanding of gender or age help doctors in planning health education?
During this essay I am going to answer the question that is noted above, but I will be focusing on the topic of gender. The topics I am going to cover are defining gender, describing the health differences that are faced by people of different genders, and then I will focus on health education issues relating to gender.
Gender and sex have been defined by sociologists as two different things. Sociologists have defined the term ‘sex’ as relating to the biological differences between men and women based on their anatomy, whereas the term ‘gender’ relates to the social and cultural differences that men and women display (Bruce and Yearly 2006). Although the term gender has a biological basis, it is important to note that it is the social and cultural factors that shape the way gender is defined (Connell 2009). These social and cultural factors encompass people’s self representation, their social representation and how they are viewed by others from a sociological point of view (Rocha-Sanchez and Diaz-Loving 2005). These are the definitions for sex and gender that I will be using during the course of this essay.
There are many ways in which men and women’s health can vary, but the topics which I will focus on are the differences in morbidity and mortality between men and women, the diseases that affect men and women differently and finally I will conclude with information on health education. Throughout the essay, I will attempt to explain the health inequalities based on gender (Arber and Thomas 2004).
Morbidity and mortality are interlinking topics, so I will address both of these matters together. The common concept is that men in general have a shorter life expectancy, whilst women have a longer life expectancy, but comparatively spend more years in poorer health than men (Nettleton 2006). Sociologists have argued over the reasons for this. Men and women have different concepts for the definition of health itself, which may go some way to explaining the difference in life expectancy between men and women. Women are more likely to define health in negative terms, using the phrase ‘the absence of disease’ as the main backbone of their definitions of health (Calnan 1987 quoted in Nettleton 2006). Another key point in women’s definition of health was that they would stress how important the ‘ability to cope’ was. Men, on the other hand, especially young men (there were some variations between the generations) would describe health in a more positive light, using strength, fitness and vigour as judges of overall health and wellbeing (Nettleton 2006). Sociologists have questioned if these differences are due to the social status of men and women in healthcare.
The negative outlook on health that has been adopted by women (Calnan 1987 quoted in Nettleton 2006) may...