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Chartbook on Women and Disability

Section 1: Women and disability throughout the life cycle: Definitions and prevalence

1.2. How does activity limitation differ by gender?

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) defines disability as a limitation in a major activity, caused by a chronic health condition. Major activities, defined in terms of age group, include: engaging in play for children under 5 years, attending school for children 5-17 years, working or keeping house for adults 18-69 years, and living independently for people 70 years and older. An activity limitation is a difficulty with or an inability to perform a major activity.

Overall, women have more activity limitations than men. Of the 129.3 million non-institutionalized females in the United States, 15.4% are limited in activity, compared to 14.6% of the 122.2 million males. However, women's higher rate of activity limitation is due to women's greater longevity and the fact that activity limitation increases sharply with age. Among people under 18 years old, only 6.1% have activity limitations (5% of girls; 7.1% of boys). In contrast, more than half of people over the age of 85 years experience activity limitations (59.3% of women; 50.2% of men). After statistically adjusting for age differences between men and women, women are no more likely than men to be limited in activity.

Females report more limitations in old age, while males report more limitations in youth.

Vertical bar chart. Go to Data Table for Figure 2 for the data values shown in this chart.

Figure 2: Percentage with activity limitation, by age group and gender

Data Table for Figure 2

Source: LaPlante & Carlson (1996).

Surveys: NHIS, 1992

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