Daily activities

Women more likely than men to have difficulty with daily activities as they age, study finds

Women are more likely than men to struggle with both regular daily chores and mobility activities as they age, according to new analysis of longitudinal cohort studies by researchers at UCL and the National Institute of health and medical research (INSERM) in France.

However, researchers say that disparities in the ability to perform daily tasks have steadily narrowed as the socio-economic gender gap narrows.

The international study, published in Lancet Healthy Longevity, uses data from more than 27,000 men and 34,000 women aged 50 to 100, born between 1895 and 1960, to examine gender differences in daily activity and mobility limitations. The information was obtained from four large longitudinal studies, covering 14 countries *.

Overall, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to be limited in their “functional ability” (both for tasks and mobility) as they aged. From the age of 75, women were also more likely to have three or more mobility issues (e.g. climbing stairs, running errands, or stretching / extending arms) or limitations with more complex daily tasks (e.g. (eg, managing money, using the phone, taking medication, or preparing meals) compared to men who were more likely to have only one or two. For example, at age 85, the prevalence of 3 or more mobility limitations was 10% higher in women than in men.

Our study of over 60,000 participants born between 1895 and 1960 provides new information on functional limitations and gender differences.

We found that women were more likely than men to be limited in performing daily tasks from the age of 70, while we observed that women were more likely to be limited in mobility activities to from 50 years old.

“This is an important observation because mobility limitations may precede other more severe limitations and targeting these gaps at middle age could be a way to reduce gender differences in limitations to one. older age. “

Mikaela Bloomberg, senior author, doctoral student, epidemiology and public health at UCL

The authors discuss how historical differences between men and women in socio-economic factors such as education and entry into the labor market may partly explain these differences, as a low level of education and domestic and unpaid work disproportionately expose women to health risks that can lead to disability.

“It seems that gender inequalities in the ability to perform daily tasks in old age decrease over time and this could be explained by the fact that women have better access to education and are more likely to enter the paid workforce in recent generations, “Bloomberg said.

“And while reductions in socio-economic inequalities may be associated with smaller disparities in simple day-to-day tasks, we did not see the same reductions in gender disparities for mobility after controlling for socio factors. -economic. This could be in part due to gender differences in body composition such as body mass index and skeletal muscle, but more research is needed to identify other factors. “

The authors say the findings are important for policy makers seeking to help narrow the inequality gap, stressing the importance of gender equality in education and employment for health outcomes in people. elderly, but noted some data limitations, including the lack of clinical data on chronic disease.

The co-author, Dr Séverine Sabia (UCL Epidemiology and public health and INSERM) added: “Developing targeted prevention policies to preserve the autonomy and quality of life of the elderly requires an understanding of the factors of sexual differences in functional limitations.

“Our study indicates that improving the socio-economic conditions of women could play an important role in reducing these gender differences. The findings also underscore the importance of early prevention to address differences in mobility between women and men. genders which can trigger gender differences in disability in old age. “

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Aging, the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, the European Commission and the US Social Security Administration.


University College London

Journal reference:

Bloomberg, M., et al. (2021) Gender differences in functional limitations and the role of socioeconomic factors: a multi-cohort analysis. The Lancet Healthy Longevity. doi.org/10.1016/S2666-7568(21)00249-X.