Gender Differences in Functional Health: Latent Curve Analysis Assessing Differential Exposure

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Abstract

Objectives.

To examine gender difference in trajectories of functional limitations among middle-aged and older adults using a comprehensive set of predictors and method not previously used to examine this topic.

Method.

Two-part latent curve models were used to analyze data from the Health and Retirement Study. These models differentiate the occurrence of limitations from the number of limitations at both baseline and over time.

Results.

Females had 3.70 times greater odds of having any limitations and had 28% more limitations at baseline compared with males, but there was no gender difference in the onset of limitations over time or in the number of limitations over time. Differences in employment status, income, wealth, depressive symptoms, arthritis, cancer, and eyesight partially explained the gender gap.

Discussion.

Females are disadvantaged in terms of occurrence and number of limitations at baseline but the gender gap remains stable over time, suggesting differences occur before late-middle and old age. Females’ lack of full-time employment, and lower levels of income and wealth translate into worse functional health. It is important to improve the socioeconomic status of females while also addressing the health conditions that contribute to functional limitations for males and females.

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