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Women's Health Trails Men's Most in Former Soviet Union

Women's Health Trails Men's Most in Former Soviet Union

Women also lag behind men in Europe, Latin America

by Elizabeth Mendes and Kyley McGeeney

This article is the third in a series exploring gender inequality worldwide.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Women worldwide are less satisfied than men with their health and are also more likely to experience physical pain, health problems, and sadness. Women are relatively the worst off in the former Soviet Union, where they are less likely than men to be satisfied with their health and to feel well-rested. Women in former Soviet countries are also more likely than men to say they have health problems, and to experience pain, sadness, and worry.


Elsewhere around the world, women in Europe and the Americas -- and Latin America in particular -- also tend to do worse than men on certain physical and emotional health metrics. Although there are smaller or nonexistent gender gaps in physical and emotional health in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, in many countries in those regions, it is just that men and women are doing equally poorly -- although that is not always the case.

The findings are based on a global analysis of men's and women's health situations in 147 countries and areas. Gallup analyzed six key measures of physical and emotional health worldwide to uncover where women lag behind men most. Specifically, Gallup looked at the percentages of men and women who:

  • are satisfied with their health
  • experienced physical pain "yesterday"
  • have health problems that prevent them from doing things people their age can normally do
  • felt well-rested "yesterday"
  • experienced worry "yesterday"
  • experienced sadness "yesterday"

Gallup's broadest measure of self-reported health is the question: "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your personal health?" At the country level, women's satisfaction with their health trails men's most in Pakistan, Portugal, Senegal, and in the former Soviet Union countries of Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia. Women in those countries are also among the least likely in the world to be satisfied with their health.


Physical Pain, Sadness, and Worry Divide Men and Women Most

Most of the nations with the largest gender differences in health satisfaction also appear on the lists of countries with gender gaps in physical pain, sadness, and worry.

In 21 countries, women are at least 10 percentage points more likely than men to report experiencing physical pain. Lebanon has the largest gender gap in the world, with women 21 percentage points more likely than men to report experiencing pain. The gender gap is also fairly large in Pakistan, where women fare the worst on this metric across the 147 countries Gallup surveyed worldwide in 2011.

The percentages of women in Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, and Albania, who report having physical pain are also among the highest in the world.


Women in 30 countries are also at least 10 percentage points more likely than men to report experiencing sadness. This gap grows to 15 points or more in Portugal, Bolivia, Brazil, Romania, and Cyprus. Still, majorities of women in all these countries say they did not experience sadness "yesterday." However, the percentages of women who experience sadness in Romania, Bolivia, Portugal, Iran, and Pakistan are among the highest in the world.


The gender divide on worry is 16 points or more in Romania, Colombia, and Bolivia. More than half of women in Romania and Bolivia told Gallup they experienced worry "yesterday." Still, women there are doing better than are those in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Serbia -- where women and men are among the most likely in the world to report worrying.


In Many Nations, Women Less Likely Than Men to Feel Well-Rested

In 22 nations worldwide, women are at least 10 percentage points less likely than men to say they felt well-rested the day before the survey. Interestingly, some of the wealthiest nations in the world have large gender divides on the well-rested measure, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, and France. This could suggest that women struggle more than men with balancing multiple priorities -- including careers and families -- as GDP rises.

The only lower-income countries on this list are Vietnam and Georgia. Women fall behind men most in Belarus, where there is a gender gap of 17 points, and less than half of women (48%) report feeling well-rested. Belarusian women are among the least likely in the world to feel well-rested -- along with those in Romania, Armenia, Madagascar, Iraq, Serbia, Hungary, and Georgia.


Few Gender Differences Exist on Health Problems Metric

The physical health metric with the fewest gender differences is the question, "Do you have any health problems that prevent you from doing any of the things people your age normally can do?" Double-digit gaps exist between men and women in seven countries. The largest is in Belarus, at 14 points. Lebanon -- the country with one of the largest gender gaps in physical pain -- also makes this list with 12 points dividing women and men. Still, 74% of Lebanese women say they do not have health problems that prevent them from doing any of the things people their age normally can do.



Twenty-seven countries register double-digit gender gaps on two or more of the health metrics analyzed. These countries are Lebanon, Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, Romania, Peru, Portugal, Colombia, Cambodia, Ukraine, Brazil, Belarus, Malta, Albania, Spain, Cyprus, Poland, Russia, Georgia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Estonia, Uruguay, Slovenia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Nearly all of these countries are in the former Soviet Union, Latin America or Europe (primarily southeast and southern Europe). Portugal is the only nation to register double-digit gender gaps on all six health items.

While in many of the countries with double-digit gender gaps, per-capita health expenditures are less than $1,000, in some -- Portugal, Malta, and the Netherlands, for example -- they are higher, suggesting that even if a country spends a lot on residents' health, it is not necessarily addressing men's and women's health needs equally.

It is more likely that there are conditions specific to a region or a particular nation -- rather than one overarching explanation -- that are behind the gender gaps on the physical and emotional health metrics Gallup measured. Further investigation into the issues unique to each country that are causing women to lag behind men on key health metrics is needed to help determine what women in countries with large health gender gaps need to achieve to be on par with men.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with 191,317 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted during 2011 in 147 countries. For results based on the total global sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is less than ±1 percentage point. For results based on country-level samples, the margin of error ranges from a low of ±1.6 percentage points to a high of ±7.3 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.


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