Explaining biological differences between men and women by gendered mechanisms (2023)
The principal aim of this study was to explore if biological differences between men and women can be explained by gendered mechanisms.
We used data from the 1958 National Child Development Study, including all the living subjects of the cohort at the outcome collection wave (44–45 years). We explored several biomarkers as outcomes: systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, HbA1c, CRP, and cortisol. Three conceptualizations of gender have been used to define methodological strategies: (a) Gender as an individual characteristic; (b) Gender as an effect of sex on socio-behavioural characteristics; (c) Gender as an interaction between sex and the social environment, here the early-life social environment. We estimated the total effect of sex and the proportion of total effect of sex at birth eliminated by gender, measured by 3 different ways according to these 3 concepts, using g-computation.
The average level of each biomarker was significantly different according to sex at birth, higher in men for cardiometabolic biomarkers and higher in women for inflammatory and neuroendocrine biomarkers. The sizes of the differences were always smaller than one standard deviation but were larger than differences due to early-life deprivation, except for CRP. We observed gender mechanisms underlying these differences between men and women, even if the mediation effects were rarely statistically significant. These mechanisms were of three kinds: (1) mediation by socio-behavioural characteristics; (2) attenuation by gendered mechanisms; (3) interaction with early social environment. Indeed, we observed that being born into a deprived rather than non-deprived family increased metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers levels more strongly in females than in males.
The biological differences between men and women seem to not be purely explained by biological mechanisms. The exploration of gender mechanisms opens new perspectives, in terms of methodology, understanding and potential applications.