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Soc Sci Med. 2009 Jan;68(2):235-42. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.10.031. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Explaining health differences between men and women in later life: a cross-city comparison in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Médecine sociale et preventive, Universite de Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


This paper describes differences in health and functional status among older men and women and attempts to anchor the explanations for these differences within a lifecourse perspective. Seven health outcomes for men and women 60 years and older from seven Latin American and Caribbean cities are examined, using data from the 2000 SABE survey (Salud, Bienestar y Envejecimiento-n=10,587). Age-adjusted as well as city- and sex-specific prevalence was estimated for poor self-rated health, comorbidity, mobility limitations, cognitive impairment, depressive symptoms and disability in basic and instrumental activities of daily living. Logistic regressions were fitted to determine if the differences between men and women in each outcome could be explained by differential exposures in childhood (hunger, poverty), adulthood (education, occupation) and old age (income) and/or by differential vulnerability of men and women to these exposures. Sao Paulo, Santiago and Mexico, cities in countries with a high level of income inequalities, presented the highest prevalence of disability, functional limitations and poor physical health for both women and men. Women showed poorer health outcomes as compared with men for all health indicators and in all cities. Controlling for lifecourse exposures in childhood, adulthood and old age did not attenuate these differences. Women's unadjusted and adjusted odds of reporting poor self-rated health, cognitive impairment and basic activities of daily living disability were approximately 50% higher than for men, twice as high for number of comorbidities, depressive symptoms and instrumental activities of daily living disability, and almost three times as high for mobility limitations. Higher vulnerability to lifecourse exposures in women as compared with men was not found, meaning that lifecourse exposures have similar odds of poor health outcomes for men and women. A more integrated understanding of how sex and gender act together to influence health and function in old age needs consideration of additional biological and social factors.

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