Women as “Vessels of Reproduction”

These aren’t my words. Listen to John R. Beard, who runs the Department of Ageing and Life Course for the World Health Organization:

“To some extent, we treat women as vessels of reproduction, and once they’ve done that we don’t pay much attention to them.”

That’s from Don McNeil's Times article about women’s life expectancy:

Life expectancy for women who live to age 50 is going up around the world, but poor and middle-income countries could easily make greater gains, according to a new World Health Organization report.

Heart disease, stroke and cancer kill most women over 50, said Dr. John R. Beard, director of the W.H.O.’s department of aging, so countries should focus on lowering blood pressure with inexpensive drugs and screening for cervical and breast cancer. Those diseases can be prevented or treated, said Dr. Beard, who was also an author of the study, which was published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

Related (if barely): Ronald Coase has died at age 102.

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  1. SanderM says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. Colin says:

    This is all very politically correct, but the facts are that mortality rates for men over 50 remain higher than those for women in the same age group. Heart disease, blood pressure, testicular and prostate cancer are preventable or treatable, and all present at higher rates than the equivalent women’s health issues.

    So if we are going to prioritise our attention, it should be on improving men’s health.

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    • Melissa Belvadi says:

      There is also research showing that men neglect their own health more than women – they don’t go for regular checkups, they fail to comply with doctor’s instructions once they do go, etc. I agree that more should be done to improve men’s health, but we need to be clear that the “more” to be done isn’t medical research per se, but outreach and education.

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  3. James says:

    We could with equal validity say that we treat men as mobile wallets, and once they pass age 40-50 we don’t pay much attention to them unless they have lots of money.

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  4. Ben says:

    Funny how the who says we should focus on middle aged womens health when life expectancy for women is higher then men’s in almost every single country.

    (Similar paradox applies to the whole ‘stop the violence against women’ campaigning. Why not stop violence regardless of gender? Or is violence against men somewhat more okay?)

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  5. Julien Couvreur says:

    This Freakonomics article disappoints me, as the source cited offers not argument or evidence in support of the provocative soundbite. Is that the level of reflection that you seek for your readers, catchy headlines?

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  6. James says:

    According to this site http://www.idph.state.il.us/menshealth/healththreats.htm heart disease and cancer are the top two killers of men over 50. Stroke is fourth, after accidents. So how exactly is treating these conditions in women all that much different than treating them in men?

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    • Chad says:

      Well for one thing, the amount of $$ going to breast cancer is far larger than that going to prostate cancer, even though we are farther along with breast cancer research, and breast cancer affects fewer women than does prostate cancer men. Someone will follow on with hard stats, I’m sure. “”Cancer”” is certainly not one disease.

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    • Phil Persinger says:

      James, Chad & Melissa–

      It’s my impression that the issue is just as much how medical studies have been conducted historically to determine efficacy of treatments and medications for various pathologies and conditions. Until very recently the tendency was to use data derived from groups of males (organized from ranks of the military, universities, corporations, etc., or based on records of those institutions); the other 51% were left out based on the presumption that there was no real issue involved and on the reality that existing data sets on men were more easily available and new sets were more easily organized and developed from men.

      But that was at least 30 years ago. Whatever political, social and legal equality we may want for women, their physiology is simply different from men’s. Subjecting them to treatment appropriate for men based on studies derived from men’s data had resulted in enough problems (and deaths) in women that the NIH set up a special office in 1990 to begin to redress this situation


      and I emphasize the word “begin.”

      It’s less a situation that money’s being diverted from research into men’s health (though I think we’d all be interested in seeing evidence of that) than it is a matter of playing catch-up in developing medical treatment appropriate for women.

      Portraying the situation as the victimization of men and trivialization of men’s health issues is a neat bit of rhetorical jujutsu best left within the confines of the Bill Buckley Debating Club. Instead we should be learning how, in the real world, medical studies are run– and who (or what) is doing the running and the funding.

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      • James says:

        While there may be some differences between men and women, few if any of those are important at the cellular level, which is where cancer happens.

        You might also reflect on the fact that virtually all medical treatments are first tested on mice. I would suggest that the differences between mice and humans are considerably more significant than between male & female humans.

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      • Phil Persinger says:


        Thanks for your reply.

        With the complaints in this thread about how bad men have it medically and how much more should be spent on their health concerns (both of which gripes are true), I had hoped to inject a small measure of perspective by expanding on Dr. Beard’s comment in the introductory article.

        I think if you talked with any woman who has had major dealings with the medical system, you would have a high probability of hearing her complain about medication dosages defaulted to adult male body weight and metabolism. I think if you talked with any woman who had cardio-vascular problems before a few years ago, there would be a high probability that doctors had improperly diagnosed her heart disease because the literature (and medical training) concentrated on symptoms as expressed in male patients.



        While you may be correct about mice, lab testing and the cellular-level operations of cancer, those issues are largely immaterial to the point of my original comment– which argued that women have been short-changed historically in medical research (of which lab mice are only a small part) and by medical practice (of which the pathology of cancer is only one of many concerns).

        While it is true that women as a group have a longer life-expentency than men, perhaps women would live even longer if they had the same level of attention that men have had in the research, in the science and in medical practice. Who would not want that?

        Be careful, guys, how you answer!

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      • Oliver H says:

        “While there may be some differences between men and women, few if any of those are important at the cellular level, which is where cancer happens.”

        You could not be further from the truth – given how prostate cancer thrives on androgen, for example.

        “You might also reflect on the fact that virtually all medical treatments are first tested on mice. I would suggest that the differences between mice and humans are considerably more significant than between male & female humans.”

        I would suggest that’s why they are subsequently tested in humans.

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  7. david says:

    Oh boo hoo. It’s so tough to be a woman where you live 8 years longer than the average male. For sure we are so neglecting our women.

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  8. Amanda says:

    Has John R. Beard seen “Harold and Maude?” Clearly in that film at least a very much older woman is a vessel of delight. While it’s not my favorite film, different things are differently erotic to various individuals. I don’t think older women have that much trouble being erotocized, maybe it’s hard to contemplate but I’m sure there are not that many difficulties.


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