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Background: Cross-national comparison studies on gender differences have mainly focussed on life expectancy, while less research has examined differences in health across countries. We aimed to investigate gender differences in cognitive function and grip strength over age and time across European regions.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study including 51 292 men and 62 007 women aged 50 + participating in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe between 2004-05 and 2015. Linear regression models were used to examine associations.

Results: In general, women had better cognitive function than men, whereas men had higher grip strength measures. Sex differences were consistent over time, but decreased with age. Compared with men, women had higher cognitive scores at ages 50-59, corresponding to 0.17 SD (95% CI 0.14, 0.20) but slightly lower scores at ages 80-89 (0.08 SD, 95% CI 0.14, 0.00). For grip strength, the sex difference decreased from 18.8 kg (95% CI 18.5, 19.1) at ages 50-59 to 8.5 kg (95% CI 7.1, 9.9) at age 90 + . Northern Europeans had higher cognitive scores (19.6%) and grip strength measures (13.8%) than Southern Europeans. Gender differences in grip strength were similar across regions, whereas for cognitive function they varied considerably, with Southern Europe having a male advantage from ages 60-89.

Conclusion: Our results illustrate that gender differences in health depend on the selected health dimension and the age group studied, and emphasize the importance of considering regional differences in research on cognitive gender differences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)667-674
Publication statusPublished - 1. Aug 2019


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