Population Health

Closing the Women’s Health Gap

Women's Health

Despite living longer than men, women spend a quarter of their lives in worse health, prompting the World Economic Forum and the McKinsey Health Institute to publish an in-depth report to unpack the underlying factors driving the disparity.

The report explores the root causes of the women’s health gap, which span far beyond sexual and reproductive health even though the area is a go-to oversimplification for many gender differences. (Chart: Contributing Factors to Women’s Health Burden)

  • Just 5% of women’s health burden is related to gender-specific conditions (maternal and gynecological)
  • 47% stems from conditions that affect women either disproportionately (depression, auto-immune disease) or differently (AFib, colon cancer)
  • 43% comes from conditions that don’t affect women disproportionately or differently (ischemic heart disease, tuberculosis, etc.)

The large disparity resulting from conditions that impact everyone more-or-less equally can be attributed to several systemic issues, which the report does a great job outlining alongside possible solutions.

  • Better clinical trial design is needed to ensure equitable representation for conditions that affect women differently, such as incorporating male vs. female disease prevalence mix and using sex-specific thresholds for biomarkers.
  • Accurately assessing the prevalence of conditions such as endometriosis and menopause is needed to improve the notoriously underestimated metrics, which leads to underinvestment due to misunderstood market potential. 
  • Enhancing access to gender-specific care is critical to improving outcomes, which might include health systems implementing new guidelines (e.g, sex-specific cutoffs for biomarkers, discharge checklists) to guide decision making and minimize biases.

In typical McKinsey fashion, the report devotes significant real estate to the economic burden of the women’s health gap, which if closed could boost global GDP by $1T due to improved workforce participation. It’s also worth noting that 10 conditions contribute over half of the economic burden. (Chart: Economic Burden by Condition)

The Takeaway

Tackling the women’s health gap is essential for far better reasons than boosting GDP, but regardless of the justification, progress depends on addressing the issues outlined in this report. Glaring research gaps, disparities in care delivery, and underinvestment have led to massive disparities in women’s health, but they’ve also created a huge opportunity for those that can help to solve them.

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