CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

Using qualitative material, this article analyses the indicators that people aged 65 and over use to evaluate their health (perceived health) and highlights some class distinctions. Medical criteria and activity are the main types of indicators people base their assessments on. The use of medical criteria (doctor’s opinion, illnesses, risk factors, medicines, operations) stems more from interaction with the medical profession, which is differentiated by social class, than from a direct impact of the medicalization of old age. Furthermore, the meaning of medical criteria sometimes goes beyond health and relates to the social value of individuals, as in the case of operations. Perceived health is clearly unaffected by medical institutions when health is seen in terms of activity – mainly work, mobility and physical leisure activities. The social class conditions and social relationships in which household chores are performed or delegated are determinant. When household chores are performed for lack of help, they have a negative impact on perceived health, frequent among working-class women. Delegating household chores can also be stigmatising when the husband “helps” his wife with chores assigned to her. These observations form the basis for a new hypothesis about the paradox of women’s greater longevity but poorer health.

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