Gender Disparities Persist in Women’s Health Diagnoses

by Ella

A study conducted in Denmark in 2019, involving nearly 7 million individuals, revealed that women are diagnosed with numerous health conditions at an average age four years older than men. This disparity is particularly evident in the case of diabetes, with diagnoses occurring approximately four and a half years later for women, and in the case of cancer, diagnosed about two and a half years later.


While genetic and environmental factors may contribute, gender bias is suspected as a partial reason for these differences. Søren Brunak, the lead author from the University of Copenhagen, explained that men often delay seeking medical attention, suggesting that the actual onset age difference may be even more significant.


The healthcare industry has long assumed that data from male bodies can represent the entire population, leading to a significant gender health data gap. British journalist Caroline Criado Perez highlighted this issue in her book, “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men.” For instance, medical trials for congestive heart failure have had a three-to-one ratio of men to women over 15 years.


The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in 2020, further exacerbated gender disparities in healthcare access. In response, the World Economic Forum initiated its Women’s Health Initiative in 2022, aiming to demonstrate the socioeconomic benefits of investing in women’s health. Although funding for “FemTech” companies reached $2.5 billion in 2021, they only received 3% of all digital health funding, as per McKinsey.


The Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum indicated a minor improvement in the Health and Survival dimension in 2023, with a 0.2 percentage point increase compared to 2022. However, it marked a 0.3 percentage point decrease compared to 2006 and varied by region.

Nonetheless, significant gender disparities persist in the diagnosis of women’s health conditions. Here are three key examples:

Heart Attack: Women in the UK are approximately 30% less likely to undergo a coronary angiogram after a STEMI heart attack, even though they are susceptible to such heart attacks, mainly caused by heart disease. Studies have shown that women who suffer severe heart attacks are more likely to die upon admission to the hospital and less likely to receive preventive medications like statins.

Endometriosis: Endometriosis is often referred to as “the missed disease” due to its underdiagnosis and limited understanding. Globally, it affects 10% of women and girls of reproductive age, but diagnosis can take more than seven years, particularly for Black women. American filmmaker and activist Shannon Cohn has worked to raise awareness about this condition.

Autism: Boys are diagnosed with autism at nearly three times the rate of girls, and girls are often diagnosed later or not at all. This can lead to mental health challenges in adulthood. Gender bias in medicine plays a role, as girls may not exhibit the same behaviors and symptoms as boys, leading to underdiagnosis.

Amira Ghouaibi, Project Lead of the Women’s Health Initiative at the World Economic Forum, emphasized the need for further research into the reasons behind unmet medical needs for women. She stated, “Every woman should be able to receive quality care when and where she needs it. We will only be able to achieve this once we examine the state of the women’s health gap, and then identify the biggest disparities to inform strategies and policies toward better women’s health outcomes.”


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