Gender equality and health experiences : workplace patterns in Northern Sweden

Abstract: Gendered practices of working life create gender inequalities through horizontal and vertical gender segregation in work, which may lead to gender inequalities in health experiences. The workplace is an important part of the social circumstances under which health opportunities and constraints are shaped. The workplace has also been identified as an important arena for gender constructions. Still, there is a lack of research about the relations between workplace gender equality and health experiences. The aim of this thesis was to explore gender equality and health experiences in a workplace setting.Qualitative and quantitative methods were used. In the qualitative studies all caregiving staff at two establishments providing care for elderly was invited to participate in focus groups (Papers I & II). A moderator led 14 focusgroup discussions. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the transcribed discussions. For the quantitative studies questionnaire data from the Northern Swedish Cohort (n=836) were analysed and supplemented with register data about the participants’ workplaces. The register data were used to stratify the workplaces according to gender composition (paper IV) and to create gender equality indicators of the number of women and men at the workplace, education, salary and parental leave (Paper III). Cluster analysis was used to identify patterns of gender equality at the workplaces. Logistic regression analysis, adjusting for individual socio-demographics and previous psychological distress, were used to analyse psychological distress in relation to both clusters and gender compositions.This thesis identifies various workplace patterns of gender equality and how they are related to health experiences. The results from the focus group study showed that workplace stressors had a structural character, often originating from societal processes outside the own organization, whereas health resources had a relational character and were constructed within the organization (paper I). Gender equality was seen as a structural issue not connected to the individual health experiences and gender inequalities were justified through focusing on personalities and interests in work division (paper II). The cluster analysis resulted in six distinctive clusters with different workplace patterns of gender equality (paper III). The most gender-equal cluster was characterized by gender equality in salary and parental leave and was associated with the lowest prevalence of psychological distress, with no significant differences between women and men. The clusters were associated with psychological distress among women only. The highest odds for psychological distress among women were found in a traditional unequal cluster. Analyses of the gender composition at the workplace showed that the highest prevalence of psychological distress was found at workplaces with a mixed gender composition (paper IV). The psychosocial work environment was rather similar independent of the workplace gender composition.The factors most strongly associated with psychological distress were high demands and low control at workplaces with more men, being looked down upon at workplaces with a mixed gender composition, and social support at workplaces with more women.Gender perspectives highlight the importance of gender relations in research on work-related health. Gender inequalities at workplaces can be part of the explanation to women’s worse self-rated health. A multidimensional view of gender equality is necessary to understand health consequences of specific workplace situations. Workplaces are important arenas for health promotion activities and gender equality aspects needs to be taken into account to reach both women and men. Adequate health promotion needs to shift focus from individual health strategies to structural solutions that can challenge the root of the problem.

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