Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Health Perception and Health Care Access: Sex Differences in Behaviors and Attitudes

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Health Perception and Health Care Access: Sex Differences in Behaviors and Attitudes

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

Gender studies on health have been frequently restricted to measurements of pathology and physiological disorders (Derikson 2000). This article highlights the importance of designing public health studies with a broader gender perspective that includes socioeconomic conditions and lifestyles.

While sex refers to the physiological differences between men and women, gender refers to the variety of behaviors, expectations, and roles that coexist in the different social, economic, and cultural contexts. Social identity theory assumes that belonging to social groups shapes individual attitudes (e.g., gender, ethnicity) (Tajfel and Turner 1979). An application of this theory to the health field confirms the interdependency between social identification and the formation of perceptions, along with the adoption of risk and health behaviors (Cameron 2001).

The social-scientific literature identifies the causes of gender differences as individual preferences that arise from factors that include: differences in education and training; gender-role socialization; stereotypes; personal values and prejudices; contextual conditions; and a willingness to contort the generalized, assumed preferences of those in power (Trentham and Larwood 1998).

Gender differences in roles imposed on women usually obfuscate gender differences in socioeconomic and cultural factors that are associated with nutrition, lifestyles, access to health services, and health risks (Friedman 2000; Gregory, Kohler, Feichtinger, Dowler, and Winkler 2000). For example, gender inequalities in income make women more vulnerable to poverty (Theobald, Tolhurst, and Squire 2006); the cost of health care is a decisive barrier to access to health care services (Mitchell and Schlesinger 2006).

Sex differences might be observed in epidemiological tendencies. Men have higher rates of mortality in earlier stages of life and women live longer, but this does not mean that women enjoy better health. This phenomenon is known as the "gender paradox in health" and it ignores the fact that women suffer more health complications (morbidity), at all ages, in most cultures, and in all socioeconomic groups (Mansdotter, Lindholm, and Ohman 2004; Sen, George, and Ostlin 2002; WHO 1996).

Health surveys highlight two particular facts: firstly, we enjoy better health now than in the past, and, secondly, men perceive their state of health more positively than women. The percentages of people suffering from different kinds of illnesses are higher for women than for men, with the exception being stomach and chest problems. According to O'Brien, Hunt, and Hart (2005), despite growing interest in masculinity and men's health, few studies have focused on men's experiences of consultation. What is more, these studies are usually limited to diseases of the male body (testicular and prostate cancer) or to diseases stereotyped as "male" (coronary disease).

Women have a higher prevalence of backache, headache, rheumatism, nervous problems, sleep problems, varicose veins, and self-medication (Cuesta 2003). The diagnosed morbidity of women is reflected in a worse perception of their health and in the fact that they resort to persistent complaints related to illness.

Sex differences in health attitudes involve many issues--the origin of illness (psychological and/or physical), conformation of identity, experiences related to female and male attributes (sexuality, maternity, fatherhood, etc.), lifestyles (diet, physical activity), and health care behaviors (requirements and demands for health goods and services) (Eiser and Hersen 2000). There is empirical evidence that there is a strong psychosocial component in the development of health; relative income levels (1) affect people's health more than absolute values (Moss 2002). In other words, inequality might be important in determining an individual's state of health, but there are also other, equally important factors such as working conditions (e. …

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