Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gender and hygiene: Could cleanliness be hurting girls?

Date:
January 27, 2011
Source:
Oregon State University
Summary:
Little girls growing up in western society are expected to be neat and tidy -- "all ribbon and curls" -- and one researcher who studies science and gender differences thinks that emphasis may contribute to higher rates of certain diseases in adult women.

Little girls growing up in western society are expected to be neat and tidy -- "all ribbon and curls" -- and one researcher who studies science and gender differences thinks that emphasis may contribute to higher rates of certain diseases in adult women.

The link between increased hygiene and sanitation and higher rates of asthma, allergies and autoimmune disorders is known as the "hygiene hypothesis" and the link is well-documented. Yet the role of gender is rarely explored as part of this phenomenon.

Oregon State University philosopher Sharyn Clough thinks researchers need to dig deeper. In her new study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, she points out that women have higher rates of allergies and asthma, and many autoimmune disorders. However, there is no agreed-upon explanation for these patterns. Clough offers a new explanation.

Clough documents a variety of sociological and anthropological research showing that our society socializes young girls differently from young boys. In particular, she notes, girls are generally kept from getting dirty compared to boys.

"Girls tend to be dressed more in clothing that is not supposed to get dirty, girls tend to play indoors more than boys, and girl's playtime is more often supervised by parents," said Clough, adding that this is likely to result in girls staying cleaner. "There is a significant difference in the types and amounts of germs that girls and boys are exposed to, and this might explain some of the health differences we find between women and men."

However, that doesn't mean that parents should let their daughters go out into the back yard and eat dirt, Clough points out.

"What I am proposing is new ways of looking at old studies," she said. "The hygiene hypothesis is well-supported, but what I am hoping is that the epidemiologists and clinicians go back and examine their data through the lens of gender."

The "hygiene hypothesis" links the recent rise in incidence of asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis, with particular geographical and environmental locations, in particular urban, industrialized nations. Many scholarly studies have noted that as countries become more industrial and urban, rates of these diseases rise. For instance, the rate of Crohn's disease is on the rise in India as sanitation improves and industrialization increases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that asthma prevalence is higher among females (8.9 percent compared to 6.5 percent in males) and that women are more likely to die from asthma. The National Institutes of Health statistics show that autoimmune diseases strike women three times more than men.

A report by the Task Force on Gender, Multiple Sclerosis, and Autoimmunity shows that among people with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, the female to male ratio is between 2:1 and 3:1. With the disease lupus, nine times as many women are affected as men.

Clough is a philosopher of science and epistemology, with a particular focus on feminist theory and gender differences. The focus of her work is to study scientific research and look for the implicit or hidden assumptions that guide that research.

She believes the link between hygiene, gender and disease is not just a fluke.

"We are just now beginning to learn about the complex relationship between bacteria and health," she said. "More than 90 percent of the cells in our body are microbial rather than human. It would seem that we have co-evolved with bacteria. We need to explore this relationship more, and not just in terms of eating 'pro-biotic' yogurt."

That's why Clough does not recommend that parents feed their daughters spoonfuls of dirt. Just one gram of ordinary uncontaminated soil contains 10 billion microbial cells, so the effects of ingesting dirt are unknown.

"We obviously do not yet know enough to differentiate between helpful and harmful bacteria," she said.

However, Clough said she can easily join in the chorus of voices of health experts who say that more outdoor time for kids is good -- even if that means the kids get a little dirty.

"Getting everyone, both boys and girls, from an early age to be outdoors as much as possible is something I can get behind," she said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sharyn Clough. Gender and the hygiene hypothesis. Social Science & Medicine, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.11.021

Cite This Page:

Oregon State University. "Gender and hygiene: Could cleanliness be hurting girls?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126144528.htm>.
Oregon State University. (2011, January 27). Gender and hygiene: Could cleanliness be hurting girls?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126144528.htm
Oregon State University. "Gender and hygiene: Could cleanliness be hurting girls?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126144528.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

President To Send 3,000 Military Personnel To Fight Ebola

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) President Obama is expected to send 3,000 troops to West Africa as part of the effort to contain Ebola's spread. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Male-Pattern Baldness To Prostate Cancer

Study Links Male-Pattern Baldness To Prostate Cancer

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) New findings suggest men with a certain type of baldness at age 45 are 39 percent more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins