Health And Wealth: Women Are DifferentOr Are They?

Much statistical research over the past 40 years has found that higher death rates go hand in hand with lower socioeconomic status: the lower the income and education level, the higher the mortality rate.

But the "rule" didn't seem to apply to women as well as to men, so Peggy McDonough, Ph.D., of York University in Toronto and her colleagues studied data collected on 5,665 men and women from 1972 to 1991, focusing on the death-risk influences of gender differences in the workplace and household, in income and education, and other factors.

They report in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior that earlier data doesn't adequately predict women's mortality risks primarily because the socioeconomic measures used in those studies were tailored to men's position in the labor market, but not to women's. The occupation, education, and income of the male household head generally was used as a marker for the socioeconomic position or status of the entire family.

"Conceptually, this 'conventional' view implies the existence of a family-based class position," the researchers write. "Empirically, it means assigning women to the occupational class of male relatives."

That conventional view fails to consider the ways in which gender is a fundamental element of socioeconomic status, the scientists say. It doesn't take into account the different patterns of job concentration for men and women, and doesn't reflect the hierarchy of women's jobs. Significantly, it ignores women who are not in the paid labor force.

Once gender-sensitive criteria were in place and used on the study subjects, the researchers found no difference in the effects of men's and women's socioeconomic status on their mortality risk. The same factors result in the same risk.

But they also discovered a new wrinkle: a fundamental difference in how increasing the income of one spouse affects the mortality risk of the other. They found that a husband's incre

Contact: Peggy McDonough, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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