The article I read is “‘Health is not a man’s domain’: lay accounts of gender difference in life-expectancy in Russia”. The authors, Ilkka Pietila and Marja Rytkonen, examined the meaning of health to Russian lay people, conducting interview with 29 people aged 15-81. They concluded that the role of the individual in healthy responsibility is very weak, with a stronger emphasis on societal and governmental influence. They also found that in relation to gender, gender roles and relations are static with few alternatives despite social changes. This study was prompted by the large gender gap in life-expectancy in Russia.
In 2006, the average life expectancy was 59 years for Russian men but 72 years for Russian women. Pietila and Rytkonen wanted to see if this gap was caused by gender perceptions of health and/or each other or by something else. The theoretical basis for this research is a process Frankel and Davison call ‘lay epidemiology’, which states that “individuals interpret health risks through the routine observation and discussion of cases of illness and death in personal networks and the public arena, as well as from formal and informal evidence arising from other sources, such as television and magazines (p. 071).
The researchers discerned “four types of explanations: essential/naturalist explanations (biological and psychological differences), explanations related to social roles, explanations related to social change and explanations related to health behavior” (p. 1075). They also found that these explanations often centered around one health behavior: heavy drinking. This article is a great because of its discussion the masculinity behind drinking, as well as the cultural aspects yet how the women tended to see drinking as more of a health hazard then the men who participate in it.
The phenomenon of the gender gap and the cultural aspects of drinking add unique curveballs to solving the health crisis in Russia today. An article like this one is very important because it illustrates factors that need to be considered when coming up with a public health policy for Russia. For example, this findings of this research would support the argument that prohibition would not work in reducing alcoholism in Russia; alcohol’s cultural significance is too strong for such a policy to have any ‘lay’ support.
The article also noted its limitations. The authors only interviewed subjects in St. Petersburg, which is one of the more Westernized cities in Russia and is more likely to have an higher educated and socioeconomic population compared with the majority of Russia. The authors conceded that this population dynamic may have skewed the results. They also admit that their research sample was small (only 29 people interviewed), although they did their best to have a variety of ages and occupations within these people.
One excellent point in the researcher’s methodology is the use of native-Russian speakers to conduct the interviews, and having men interview men and women interview women. The use of native speakers would allow for the nuances of language and communication to be picked up. The gender separation also nullifies the possibility that gender biases would have taken place during the interviews.