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Is cumulative exposure to economic hardships more hazardous to women’s health than men’s? A 16-year follow-up study of the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions


Background: Previous research has shown an association between cumulative economic hardships and various health outcomes. However, the cumulative effects of economic hardships in regard to gender differences have not been given enough attention.

Methods: 1981 women and 1799 men were followed up over a period of 16 years (1981–1997), using data from the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions panel study. The temporal association between economic hardships and self-rated health, psychological distress and musculoskeletal disorders was analysed.

Results: A dose–response effect on women’s health was observed with increasing scores of cumulative exposure to financial stress but not with low income. Women exposed to financial stress at both T1 and T2 had an increased risk of 1.4–1.6 for all health measures compared with those who were not exposed. A similar consistent dose–response effect was not observed among men.

Conclusions: There is a temporal relationship between cumulative economic hardships and health outcomes, and health effects differ by gender. Financial stress seems to be a stronger predictor of poor health outcomes than low income, particularly among women. Policies geared towards reducing health inequalities should recognise that long-term exposure to economic hardships damages health, and actions need to be taken with a gender perspective.

  • CHD, coronary heart disease
  • SRH, self-rated health
  • ULF, Swedish Survey of Living Conditions

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