Differential Explanations of Illness in Women and Men

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Abstract

This studyinvestigated how the tendencyto view men as the standard for health affects people's explanations for gender differences in illness. Participants (301 women, 132 men; 87% Whites, 4% African Americans, 4% Asians, 3% Hispanics, 1% American Indians, 1% others) read a description of a gender difference in acute and chronic conditions that placed either women or men at a health disadvantage. Attributions for the gender difference were then assessed. As expected, attributions differed depending on which gender was placed at a health disadvantage. When the gender difference disadvantaged women, participants attributed it primarily to relatively uncontrollable, constitutional factors (e.g., biology). In contrast, when the same gender difference disadvantaged men, participants attributed it primarily to relatively controllable, nonconstitutional factors (e.g., behavior). Both female and male participants provided these differential explanations for the same gender difference in illness. Potentially important implications of these findings for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions, the formation of public health policy, and scientific research are discussed.

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