Gender, Time Use, and Health

Published In: Journal of Health and Social Behavior, v. 32, no. 2, June 1991, p. 114-129

by Chloe E. Bird, Allen Fremont

One of the continuing paradoxes facing social epidemiologists concerns sex differences in morbidity and mortality. Although women live longer than men, they apparently get sick more. We hypothesize that women's higher morbidity levels result from less paid work and lower wages combined with more hours spent in household labor, child care, and helping others, and fewer hours of leisure and sleep. Men and women hold different social roles; men hold most of the highly rewarding roles. We operationalize social roles as time commitments to various role-related activities. This approach provides interval-level measures such as time spent in caring for children instead of simple dichotomies such as parent/nonparent. We find that when gender differences in social roles are controlled, being male is associated with poorer health than being female. We conclude that if gender roles were more equal, women would experience better health than men, more consistent with their greater longevity.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.