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Sociol Health Illn. 2012 Jul;34(6):911-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01440.x. Epub 2012 Mar 23.

Exhausted women, tough men: a qualitative study on gender differences in health, vulnerability and coping with illness in Spain.

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Andalusian School of Public Health, Campus Universitario de Cartuja, Cuesta del Observatorio, 4 Ap. Correos, Granada, Spain.


This study analyses different perceptions by women and men, from different social backgrounds and ages, regarding their health, vulnerability and coping with illness, and describes the main models provided by both sexes to explain determinants for gender inequalities in health. The qualitative study involved in-depth interviews with women and men resident in Granada (Spain). The women rated their health worse than men, associating it with feelings of exhaustion. However, men tended to overrate their health, hiding their problems behind the 'tough guy' stereotype associated with masculinity. Both women and men shared the belief that women are more vulnerable, while men are weaker at coping with illness. The explanatory models offered for this paradox of 'weak but strong women' and 'tough but weak men' were different for each sex. Men used biological arguments more than women, centred on the female reproductive cycle. Women used more cultural models and identified determinants relating to social stratification, gender roles and power imbalances. In conclusion, gender constructions affect the health perceptions of both women and men at any social level or age. 'Exhausted' women and 'tough' men should form preferential target groups for intervention to reduce gender inequalities in health.

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