Doing health, doing gender: Testing a social constructionist view of health and risk behavior engagement

2007 2007

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

The sex differential in health-related behaviors is well established. What is less clear is precisely how health behavioral differences vary within sex groups. This dissertation looked through the lens of gender to explore within-sex health behavior differentials. Taking a social constructionist position, I argued that health behaviors are gendered enactments. Due to a combination of individual agency, structural opportunities and constraints, people construct gender in myriad ways. I therefore expected to find gendered health behavior variation among men and among women, perhaps as much as has been found between the sexes.

In this cross-sectional analysis (1995-6 National Survey of Mid-life in the U.S., N=3,690), a number of different gender indicators were used to interrogate this idea. I examined two individual level indicators: attitudes about gender and gendered personality traits. And since people use gender to guide social interactions within institutions, I looked within two highly gendered institutions, paid employment and the family. I also examined how the intersection between my individual level and institutional gender indicators affected health-related behaviors. The health behaviors in this study included self-care and medical check-ups, and the risk behaviors included risky sexual behavior and several substance abuse measures.

The findings showed that my four measures of gender were far more widely associated with risk behavior than health behavior, especially among women. Additionally, the gendered institutions were more widely associated with the health-related behaviors than the individual level gender measures. Not only were the health-related relationships to the family and paid employment more widespread than those to attitudes about gender and gendered personality traits, but the strength of these associations were often relatively strong.

As expected, the individual level gender indicators showed that nontraditionally oriented women were more likely than traditionally oriented women to engage in a variety of risk behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, risky alcohol and drug use, risky sexual behavior, and leading an overall riskier health lifestyle. But the interactions between attitudes about gender and family structure indicated these associations to risk behavior were exacerbated when nontraditionally oriented women also had family responsibilities. Under these circumstances, nontraditional women's engagement in physical activity was also diminished.

Nontraditionally oriented men on the whole did not behave quite as healthily as traditional men in this study. However, in circumstances where men with egalitarian attitudes hold occupations that are feminine or sex-balanced, their engagement in health-positive behavior was greater than that of men with traditional attitudes about gender doing the same type of work. One possible explanation for these findings is that when a misalignment occurs between an individual's attitudes about gender and her or his involvement in gendered institutions, role strain is the result. This tension may manifest itself in less engagement in health-positive behaviors.

Indexing (details)

0626: Sociology
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Gender; Health; Risk behaviors; Social constructionism
Doing health, doing gender: Testing a social constructionist view of health and risk behavior engagement
Brubaker, Cathryn Elise
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 68/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Budig, Michelle J.
Committee member
Stoddard, Anne; Zussman, Robert
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.