Since before Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch in 1970, and even before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, campaigners have fought for sexual equality, convinced it is the key to a better society. Now researchers have discovered that gender equality may make people unwell.
Researchers in Sweden, arguably one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, have found that equality could be associated with poorer health for both men and women.
In the study, published in Social Science and Medicine, the researchers compared data from all of Sweden’s 290 municipalities. They used nine indicators of equality in both the private and public sectors, ranging from the proportion of men and women in management jobs to average income. These were related to local life expectancy, disability and absence from work through illness.
The results showed a strong link between gender equality and levels of sickness and disability for both men and women. One of the findings was that equal financial resources between the sexes was associated with higher levels of sickness and disability.
For both sexes, gender equality in managerial positions was associated with lower life expectancy.
The scientists said possible explanations for the correlation is that men’s health may be adversely affected by a loss of what had been seen as traditional male privileges. Women’s health, meanwhile, could be being damaged by greater opportunities for risky behaviour as a result of increased income, along with stress from longer working hours.
Another suggestion was that gender equality has not yet been fully achieved, and that the effects being seen are just transitional.
Anastasia de Waal, head of family policy at the think-tank Civitas, urged caution in interpreting the findings: “The danger is that the data will be interpreted as a warning against shaking up divisions of labour. In fact what Sweden needs is complete gender equality with, for example, men entering the private sphere to the extent that women have entered the public.”