Blog: Gender-related association between socioeconomic status and obesity: Is East Asia different from the West? By Xiwen Qian

The gender-related association between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity is different among regions with different culture and developmental level. Studies are consistent that women with higher income or educational level are less likely to become obese, whether in East Asian or Western countries. Whereas for men, the association is mostly found opposite in East Asia, such as some areas in China and Japan and South Korea, but mostly non-significant in the Western countries like USA, European countries and some developed areas in Brazil. One distinction between East and West is that most East Asian countries are patriarchal societies and most Western regions are developed countries.

In patriarchal societies like China and Japan, women’s value lies more in appearance, body image and reproduction, while men’s value lies in earning money and obtaining power. Sometimes a larger body size for men is likely to be valued as a sign of dominance, power and wealth. Social values tend to impose higher costs for obesity on women both in the labor and marriage markets than on men.

In Western societies, especially in developed regions like Europe and USA, with the development of feminism, social values and cultural norms gradually treat men and women equally. (Yet still, women pay more attention to appearance than men do.) Therefore, in terms of the relationship between SES and obesity, the difference between men and women in Western countries is not as big as that in East Asian countries.

High developmental level promises high degree of gender equality. The gender-related socioeconomic influence on obesity will change with human and cultural development. The effect of SES on obesity in men in East Asia will probably transit from positive to none or even negative, while in women the correlation would remain the same.

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