Review Article| Volume 129, P76-84, November 2019

Gender, mental health and ageing

  • Kim M. Kiely
    Corresponding author at: School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2031, Australia.
    Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), Sydney, Australia

    School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

    UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
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  • Brooke Brady
    UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

    ARC Centre for Excellence in Population Ageing Research, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
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  • Julie Byles
    Priority Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
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Published:September 11, 2019DOI:


      • Provides a broad review of how lifecourse exposures influence the gendered distribution of mental health in late adulthood.
      • The gender gap in mental health attenuates in advanced older age and there are higher rates of suicide among older men.
      • Gender differences in mental health vary by social context.
      • Older women have greater exposure to risk-factors for mental illness, but older men may be more vulnerable to their impacts.
      • An emerging but limited literature on the mental health of minority genders in later life.


      This article presents a broad narrative review of the epidemiological evidence on how and why the mental health of older adults varies by gender. We draw upon international research literatures spanning gerontology and population mental health, as well as major reports from global health agencies. Compared with older men, older women are more likely to experience common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, although the gender gap is smaller than it is at younger ages. In contrast, the mortality-related impacts of poor mental health, including suicide, are more severe for older men. These gendered patterns vary by country and other social contexts. Factors proposed to account for these findings include cultural and social norms, differentiation of gender roles, disadvantage and (dis)empowerment across the life course, and the coping styles of older men. However, little research has explicitly tested these explanations. Research to date has overwhelmingly focused on identifying differences in the mental health of older men and women. Notably, most studies have been restricted to binary comparisons, lacking the data to disentangle sex and gender dynamics, and few studies have examined the mental health of minority gendered adults in later life. Finally, there remains a need for high-quality population-based research into the mental health of those aged over 80 that includes coverage of people living in residential aged care settings.


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      1. Global Agewatch Index 2015: Insight Report.