Women's death rate inequalities - the answer lies in the home

May 11, 2000

Comparing health inequality in men and women: prospective study of mortality 1986 - 96

If health researchers want to find out about differences in mortality rates in women they need to consider not just their jobs but their home life as well. A paper in this week's BMJ suggests that - unlike male mortality rates - those for women are best predicted by scales which are based on the household situation and so reflect the modern working woman's "double day".

A new study comparing health inequality in men and women looked at two different ways of predicting mortality rates. In men, social class based on employment relations was the most important influence on mortality, showing clear differences according to the type of job situation. In women this employment-based classification was much less predictive of inequalities in death rates, but a different scale based on social advantage in the household, revealed large differences in mortality rates for women.

Dr Amanda Sacker of Royal Free and University College London Medical School and co-authors say the need to use different scales for men and women may have several explanations. It may reflect the amount of time over a lifetime women spend in the workplace, or other differential exposure to lifestyle outside the workplace. But it "may also reflect the nature of women's double-day. Working women in less advantaged households return home to a heavier burden of domestic labour, most of which falls on their shoulders, the disadvantage of their home situation amplifying any effects of work stress and hazards."

Dr Amanda Sacker Dept Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and UCL Medical School, London Email: amanda@public-health.ucl


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