Gender inequalities persist into old age, study finds

Men more likely to be richer, healthier and less isolated right up to the moment they die

While women in OECD countries have an average life expectancy that is over three years longer than men, the disproportionately greater risk of disability and ill health in women increases their likelihood of needing long-term care. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

While women in OECD countries have an average life expectancy that is over three years longer than men, the disproportionately greater risk of disability and ill health in women increases their likelihood of needing long-term care. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

 

The inequalities experienced by younger women are perpetuated as they grow older, meaning men are far more likely to be richer, healthier and less isolated right up to the moment they die, according to a new Lancet study published on Thursday morning.

In every one of 18 high-income countries, including Ireland, gender differences in key areas which impact healthy ageing work out better for men, the study found. Men are much more likely to be financially secure, be in paid or voluntary work, spend fewer years in ill health and be less socially isolated than women.

The international analysis in the Lancet Healthy Longevity journal is the first of its kind to investigate gender differences in the ageing experience. It reveals that different gender roles in society not only shape women’s and men’s lifetime opportunities, but also their experience in later life.

Researchers examined five social and economic factors affecting the quality of ageing – wellbeing, productivity and engagement, equity, cohesion and financial and physical security – with both men and women in the countries included in the research ranked out of 100.

Men in Ireland were given a score of 62 while women here were given 56. The largest disparity was recorded in the Netherlands where men were given an overall score of 70 compared to 55 for women.

Overall gap

However, Ireland was among the countries with the least-pronounced gender inequalities along with Finland, Spain, and Poland. The study suggests that the overall gap between men and women is greatest in the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Denmark.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 65 years and older is expected to more than double in the next 30 years, rising from 703 million in 2019 to 1.5 billion in 2050.

While women in OECD countries have an average life expectancy that is over three years longer than men, the disproportionately greater risk of disability and ill health in women increases their likelihood of needing long-term care. Women are also more likely to live alone at the end of their lives.

“Ageing societies reinforce the prevailing gender norms in which men continue to be allocated the majority of opportunities, resources and social support,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Cynthia Chen from the National University of Singapore.