(Un)healthy lifestylesEducation as a dividing line

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Sex and the discrepancy in health-related behaviour

Authors: Stéfanie André, Roza Meuleman and Gerbert Kraaykamp

Earlier research has shown that there are clear differences in the health-related behaviour between the sexes, with men generally reporting a less healthy lifestyle than women (Deeks et al. 2009; Ross & Mirowsky 2010). However, the question is to what extent these differences in health-related behaviour are linked to the education gap in health-related behaviour. We therefore examine the relationship between sex and the education gap in health-related behaviour.

Smoking

The educational gradient in figure 9.1 reveals that people with a low educational level smoke more often than people with a high educational level. The difference between men and women is also clear: men smoke more often than women (university graduates are the only group where this difference is not statistically significant). This is particularly the case for men with a low educational level. Smoking therefore appears to be relatively common mainly among men with a low educational level (40%).

Figure 9.1Smoking by educational level and sex

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
men 40 34,1 23,3 15,6
women 27,6 22,5 12,9 4,9

aSmoking here includes smoking every day as well as smoking less regularly than every day. For more information on the variables, see Acknowledgements and sources.

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Male and female drinking: are there educational differences?

Figures 9.2 and 9.3 show the educational differences for men and women in regular alcohol consumption; the figures also show a breakdown by age. Young women in all educational groups drink less regularly than men. Interestingly, educational differences in regular drinking are most prominent among women aged 46-70 years; 29.4% of the lowest-educated women in this group drink regularly, compared with 60.4% of university-educated women. The differences are much less pronounced in younger women.

The picture for men is reversed; here we find the biggest educational differences in the younger category; young highly educated men in particular drink relatively often (59.1%), while men with a secondary and low education are more moderate (34.4% and 37.8%, respectively). Drinking is a very ingrained habit among men aged 45 years and older: around 50% of all educational groups drink alcohol regularly. Only the (in absolute terms) small group of men with a low educational level is slightly more moderate, with 43.5% regular drinkers. Financial factors may offer an explanation for this difference.

Figure 9.2Regular alcohol consumption by education, men

Leeftijd low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
25-45 years 37,8 34,4 51,5 59,1
46-70 years 43,5 56,5 56,9 50,7

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Figure 9.3Regular alcohol consumption by educational level, women

Leeftijd low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
25-45 years 20,1 22,9 17,2 23,4
46-70 years 29,4 45,6 48,3 60,4

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

Sex, being overweight and vegetables

BMI
One of the biggest problems in affluent Western societies is the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Figure 9.4 shows the average BMI for men and women by educational level. The dotted line represents the lower threshold for overweight.

Highly educated women (higher professional and university) are on average not overweight. Among men, university graduates are strictly speaking the only group reporting a healthy weight on average. There is also a clear distinction between men and women as regards educational differences: the education gap in BMI between women with a low and higher secondary education on the one hand and those with a higher professional or university education on the other is clearly more pronounced than among men in the same categories, where the boundary lies between men with a higher professional and a university education.

Figure 9.4Average BMI by educational level and sex

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
men 26,8 26,1 25,7 24,9
women 26,8 25,5 24,3 23,9

aThe dotted line represents the threshold for being overweight (BMI > 25).

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

If we look at the sex-specific education gap in BMI in Europe (figure 9.5), we see that men with a low educational level in Slovenia are less often overweight than men with a high educational level. In all other countries, precisely the reverse is true. The educational difference among men is greatest in Sweden, where 41.5% of highly educated men and 72.3% of men with a low educational level are overweight.

The education gap in BMI in the Netherlands is relatively wide, with a difference of 15.6 percentage points among men and no less than 20.8 percentage points among women. In all the countries studied, overweight is more common among women with a low educational level than women with a high educational level.

Figure 9.5Overweight in Europe by sex

men
low education intermediate education high education
Belgium 62,4 55,9 53,7
Denmark 60 58,3 42,2
Germany 67,8 59,9 59
Estonia 63,7 56,2 62,4
Finland 66,5 65,7 57,3
France 65,5 50,8 41,9
Ireland 65,7 54,6 48
Lithuania 69,9 67,2 49,9
The Netherlands 61,8 61,3 46,2
Norway 69,2 68,5 57,5
Austria 66,5 61,8 40,9
Poland 68,9 61,4 62,2
Portugal 57,3 68,1 49,7
Slovenia 63,8 67,4 71,7
Spain 69 57,4 56,6
Czech Republic 72,6 67,8 72,9
United Kingdom 68,5 69,7 54,1
Sweden 72,3 65 41,5
Switzerland 57 62,3 47,8
women
low education intermediate education high education
Belgium 44,8 39,8 35,8
Denmark 42,7 52,3 32
Germany 50 37,9 28,7
Estonia 53,6 52,1 41
Finland 57,9 51,2 35,1
France 46,7 38,5 22,2
Ireland 49,7 38,3 33,6
Lithuania 56,9 61,5 37,6
The Netherlands 54,3 35,4 33,5
Norway 48,7 42,8 29,8
Austria 43,3 32,1 19,1
Poland 53,2 47,8 28,8
Portugal 59,2 40 29,6
Slovenia 73,1 41,2 28,1
Spain 47,6 31,3 27,2
Tsjechie 59,2 46,2 41,6
United Kingdom 50,2 53,2 40,7
Sweden 52 45,8 36,2
Switzerland 38,1 23,5 16,6

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N= 25,538)

Eating vegetables
Figure 9.6 also shows a clear pattern in educational differences in daily vegetable consumption. The differences are greater among women than men, with university-educated women, in particular, eating vegetables daily more often than women with a low educational level (92.3% versus 74.2%). The difference between university-educated men and men with a low educational level is substantially smaller (82.2% and 68.1%, respectively).

Figure 9.6Daily vegetable consumption by educational level and sex

low higher secondary higher professional (HBO) university (WO)
men 68,1 74,7 79,2 82,2
women 74,2 79,8 88,8 92,3

Source:European Social Survey Netherlands, Round 7, 2014-2015 (N=1,415)

References

Deeks, A., C. Lombard, J. Michelmore & H. Teede (2009). The effects of gender and age on health related behaviors. In: BMC Public Health, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 213.

Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (2010). Gender and the health benefits of education. The Sociological Quarterly, 51(1), 1-19.

Cite this card

André, S., R. Meuleman and G. Kraaykamp (2018). Sex and the discrepancy in health-related behaviour. In: (Un)healthy lifestyles: Education as a dividing line. Retrieved [datum vandaag] from https://digital.scp.nl/lifestyles/sex-and-the-discrepancy-in-health-related-behaviour.

Information notes