Women more adversely affected by day-to-day tasks in old age than men

Women are more likely to struggle with everyday tasks as they age than men, a new study has discovered. Research from University College London, which took more than 60,000 participants into consideration, found that the socioeconomic disadvantage inflicted on women in the early 20th century is still having an impact today.

The physical toll of housework carried out in their younger years affects many elderly women today, the study found. Activities like climbing the stairs, carrying shopping and cooking were studied by the scientists to see how well individuals coped and these tasks were harder for women in the over-70s category than men.

All of the women in the study were born before 1960 and many had never entered the workforce or gone into higher education. Instead, they embarked on unpaid domestic labour, much of which led to health risks and the potential to make living independently harder as they age.

It did discover that the discrepancy between the sexes in completing daily chores has become smaller in recent years. This may mean that future generations of women do not experience a legacy of domestic labour in the same way.

Mikaela Bloomberg, lead author of the study, said: “It appears that gender inequalities in the ability to carry out daily tasks at older age are decreasing over time. This could be explained by the fact that women have better access to education and are more likely to enter the paid labour force in recent generations.”

She did, however, also point out that body mass and skeletal muscle varies between men and women, which may have also contributed to the findings. Some 27,000 men and 34,000 women ranging in age from 50 to 100 and living in England, Ireland or the US were included in the study.

Both the physical and mental abilities to perform the tasks were assessed, with the aptitude at going upstairs unaided and ease with which they could extend their arms taken into consideration. 

The study concluded: “Women are more likely to be limited than men in carrying out daily tasks from age 70. We observed women were more likely to be limited in mobility activities from age 50 onward.”

Conversely, a team in Singapore has recently found that people who continue to do household chores like vacuuming and ironing in old age stay healthier. The over-65s who spent longer on housework had better physical strength and were mentally sharper.