Study finds that women are more likely to be struggling with everyday tasks as they age, compared to men

Women are more likely than men to have difficulty with both regular daily tasks and mobility issues as they age, as per new analysis of longitudinal cohort studies led by researchers at UCL and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in France.

Researchers say that the socioeconomic gap between males and females has been shrinking, and the disparities in the ability to perform everyday tasks has been steadily decreasing.

The The Lancet Healthy Longevity international study examines gender variations in daily activities and mobility limitations. The study was published in . Four large longitudinal studies covering 14 countries* provided the information.

Overall, the study found that women were more likely than men to be restricted in their ‘functional capacity’ (both tasks and mobility) as they age. After age 75, women were also more likely to have three or more mobility issues (e.g. lifting groceries, climbing stairs, reaching/extending arms, and other difficult everyday tasks like cooking cleaning, cooking etc. managing money, using the phone, taking medication, or making meals) in comparison to men who were more likely to have just one or two. At the age of 85, for example the proportion of people with three or more mobility issues was 10% greater in women than males.

The study of more than 60,000 people who were born between 1895-1960 offers new insights into the functional limitations and gender differences.

We found that women are less likely to be able to perform everyday tasks at 70 than men, and mobility activities after 50 were more restricted for women.

“This observation is significant because mobility limitations can cause more severe limitations. Aiming at these gaps in middle-age could be one way of reducing differences in sex between older ages.”

Mikaela Bloomberg Lead Author, PhD Candidate at UCL Epidemiology and Public Health

The authors explore how social and economic factors that have shaped the past like education and entry into the labor force, may partly explain the differences. A lack of education and domestic or unpaid work are particularly vulnerable to health dangers that could lead to disability.

“It appears that gender inequalities in the ability to carry out everyday tasks at a later years are diminishing over time. This could be explained by the fact that women have greater access to education and are more likely to join the paid labour force in recent times,” said Bloomberg.

“While socioeconomic inequalities are associated with less differences when performing basic daily tasks, we didn’t observe the same reductions in mobility after taking into account socioeconomic factors. This might be partly due to gender differences in body composition like body mass and skeletal muscle index, but more research is needed to identify other factors.”

The authors state that the findings are significant for policy makers who want to narrow the gap in inequality, while emphasizing the importance of gender equality in education and employment for health outcomes in old age. However, they identified some weaknesses in the data including lack of clinical data on chronic conditions.

Dr. Severine Sabia, co-author (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health, and INSERM), said “Developing specific prevention strategies to ensure independent living and quality life for older adults requires an understanding of the causes behind sex differences and functional limitations.

“Our study shows that improvements in women’s socioeconomic status could play an important role in reducing these gender differences. Findings also highlight the importance of early prevention to combat gender differences in mobility which could lead to sex disabilities at a later years.”

The National Institute on Aging, UK National Institute for Health Research and the European Commission provided funding for the study.

Journal reference:

Bloomberg, M., et al. (2021) Sex differences in functional limitations and the role of socioeconomic factors: a multi-cohort study. The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

Content Source:

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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