Housework may cause women to struggle more than men in old age, study suggests

Housework may make women struggle more than men with everyday tasks in old age, study suggests

  • Research suggests women are affected by the physical toll of housework in old age
  • The women had to do ‘domestic and unpaid work’, such as household chores
  • They were more likely to have problems performing basic physical and mental tasks
  • Research suggests this is due to a ‘socio-economic disadvantage’ suffered by women


Women struggle more than men with daily tasks in old age because of the physical toll of all the housework they did when they were younger, new research suggests.

Scientists have studied how older adults coped with activities such as climbing stairs, grocery shopping or cooking dinner.

Among the over-70s, women were more likely to have problems performing basic physical and mental tasks. The study, based on data from more than 60,000 people, suggested that this is because of the “socio-economic disadvantage” suffered by women in the 20th century.

Researchers noted that many women in the study — all of whom were born before 1960 — did not enter the labor market or higher education.

Women struggle more than men with daily tasks in old age because of the physical toll of all the household work they did when they were younger, new research suggests [File photo]

Instead, they had to do “household and unpaid work,” such as household chores.

The University College London study said that such manual labor ‘exposed them to health risks that could lead to disability’ and reduced the ability to live independently in old age. However, it found that the gap between men and women in performing daily tasks has decreased in recent years.

Lead author Mikaela Bloomberg said: “It appears that the gender inequality in the ability to perform daily tasks in old age decreases over time. This could be explained by the fact that in recent generations women have better access to education and are more likely to enter paid employment.’

She added that the range of physical capabilities between older men and women “may be due in part to sex differences in body composition, such as body mass and skeletal muscle.” The study looked at data from more than 27,000 men and 34,000 women between the ages of 50 and 100 in England, Ireland and the US.

The participants were assessed on physical and mental capacity to perform daily tasks. These include mobility issues, such as the ability to climb stairs, run errands, or extend their arms unaided.

They had to do 'household and unpaid work', such as household chores.  The University College London study said such manual labor 'exposed them to health risks that could lead to disability' and reduced the ability to live independently in old age. [File photo]

They had to do ‘household and unpaid work’, such as household chores. The University College London study said such manual labor ‘exposed them to health risks that could lead to disability’ and reduced the ability to live independently in old age. [File photo]

The authors of the study, published in The Lancet, concluded: ‘From the age of 70, women are more likely than men to be limited in performing daily tasks. We saw that women from the age of 50 were more often restricted in mobility activities.’

Research this week found that household chores like vacuuming, washing dishes and ironing may be key to staying healthy in old age.

The study, led by a team in Singapore, said that people over 65 who spend a lot of time on housework have better physical strength, are mentally sharper and are better protected against falls.

Household clutter may help dementia patients perform daily tasks, such as making tea, researchers say.

Experts said a tidy environment can help people with severe dementia, but those less affected seem to cope better with a bit of their usual clutter.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia asked 65 participants at different stages of dementia to perform daily tasks in different environments.

Professor Eneida Mioshi said it is ‘very important to know how best to support people with dementia at home’.

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