Gender and Aging in the Developing World: Where Are the Men?

In recent years, both population aging and gender issues have gained prominence in international forums concerned with population. It is frequently asserted or implied that older women are universally more vulnerable to social, economic, and health disadvantages than older men. The most significant manifestation of this exclusive concern with women when considering gender and aging is the Plan of Action adopted by the Second World Assembly on Aging in 2002. The assumed relative disadvantage of elderly women is commonly attributed to gender differences in earlier life experiences. But are older women truly disadvantaged globally with respect to all or most essential aspects of well-being? The authors provide empirical evidence that clearly shows that older women are not invariably disadvantaged vis-à-vis men. In particular, they call into question the wisdom and equity of a virtually exclusive emphasis on the needs of women when incorporating gender concerns into policies and programs related to aging. A more balanced perspective that recognizes gender as a potential, but not necessarily central, marker of vulnerability for various aspects of well-being in specific settings and times, and that allows for male as well as female disadvantage, would serve the current and future elderly generations far better.