Women Pay More Than Men for Health Care, Receive Lower Quality Care

Younger American women are especially pessimistic about the future of gender equality in health care

Published April 16, 2021

Key Findings

  • Roughly six in 10 women believe they pay more for health care than men.

  • 53% of women believe their doctor takes their health concerns less seriously because of their gender.

  • Pessimism about gender equality in health care is especially prevalent among younger women, as roughly 60% of women age 30 and younger say their doctor would take their health concerns more seriously if they were a man, compared to only 26% of women age 56 and older who feel the same way.

  • Only one in four women believe the U.S. health care system is making appropriate strides toward gender equality. 

  • More than three out of five women say they have a higher pain tolerance than men.

Study Overview

More than 50 years removed from when the Women’s Health Movement first sought to improve gender equality in health care, many women still think the American health care system has failed to make appropriate strides toward equal care quality for men and women. 

In recognition of Women’s Health Month in May, we surveyed 1,017 women age 18 and older to analyze their opinions on equality in U.S. health care today. 

The opinions reflected in our survey were consistent with data surrounding the costs and utilization of the U.S. health care system by women. According to analysis conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, women incur greater health care costs than men, are more likely to go without care because of cost and are more likely to have a pre-existing condition that could result in declined insurance coverage without Affordable Care Act protections. 

Our survey also revealed concerns about gender equality in the health care system were greatest among younger generations, who have the highest uninsured rates of any age group. 

This is an especially important issue to address, according to insurance expert and licensed insurance agent Rebekah Etheredge. “Now, more than ever before, it’s important for women of all ages to have access to good quality and affordable health care,” Etheredge said. “Preventive care including regular doctor checkups, dental cleanings and eye exams help keep women healthier for longer.”

Women Pay More for Care Than Men and Are Treated Less Seriously

Nearly six out of 10 women surveyed believed their primary care costs were higher on average than that of a man’s. And those born in 1981 or later were more likely to feel this way.

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Graphic showing percentage of women who think their health care costs more than a mans

The 57% of women who answered “yes” are correct. According to average health spending per capita in 2015, women face higher health care costs than men across every age group, and the gap is at its widest among women under the age of 45. Women aged 19-34 spent an average of $3,402 on health care compared to just $1,891 for men. For those aged 35-44, women’s costs totaled $4,717 compared to $2,518 for men. 

53% of women we surveyed believed their doctor would take their health concerns more seriously if they were male. And respondents said that it takes on average 2.3 doctor visits before their health concerns are taken seriously. 

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Graphic showing percentage of women who think their doctor takes them less seriously because of their gender

Despite these facts – or perhaps because of them – we found that 62% of women believe they have a higher pain tolerance than men. 

“Although the priorities for every female shopper vary, one thing stands out as being important – affordable health care that covers the services they want and need.” – Rebekah Etheredge

Younger Women Are Less Optimistic About Gender Equality in Health Care

Only one in four women surveyed believed the U.S. health care system is making appropriate strides toward equal health care quality for women. 37% of millennial and Gen Z women didn't believe the U.S. is moving toward a more equitable health care system, which is a pessimism that decreased with age among respondents.

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Graphic showing the percentages of women who feel the health care system is moving towards gender equality

It was only in the last decade when the Affordable Care Act prohibited insurance companies from charging women higher premiums than men and required insurers to cover maternity care and contraception and other key provisions of women’s health. And despite the progress, these advancements have since been met with political resistance and multiple attempts at repeal. 

“More senior women are living at or near the federal poverty line, in comparison to men. So having an affordable or $0 premium plan that fits their budget and has low out-of-pocket costs, is very important for women with Medicare.” – Rebekah Etheredge

Conclusion

The majority of women correctly believe they pay more for health care than men. The majority of women also believe their doctor would take their health concerns more seriously if they were a male. And the majority of women – especially younger millennial women and Gen Z women – do not feel like the U.S. health care system is making appropriate strides toward gender equality.

Methodology

This study was conducted on April 12, 2021, using an audience pool gathered using MTurk, an online polling tool. The total survey included 1,017 respondents, screening for participants who are women age 18 and older.

Participants were filtered based on completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)

This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

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