By the Numbers

Menstuff® has compiled statistics on various men's issues and will present new numbers each month.

Myth # 281: Medical Research is Biased Against Women

In 1920, the life span gender gap was only 1.0 year. By 1990, men were dying seven years earlier than women. So what has medical research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) done to reduce this disparity?

NIH Gender-Specific Research: As early as 1988, women's health was allocated 9.7% of the NIH research budget, compared to only 4.4% for men's health, with the remaining 85.9% going to research that benefited both sexes (1). By 1996, women's health funding had soared to 16.0%, with men's health only 5.7% of the total (2). Even more troubling is the declining male participation in NIH research. By Fiscal Year 1996, only 36.3% of NIH study participants were men (3).

The Heart Disease Controversy: Men's risk of dying of heart disease has long been almost twice that of women (4). True, women did not represent 50% of enrollees in the early heart disease studies. But after the 1961 thalidomide tragedy that maimed 12,000 infants, women were of no mind to volunteer for risky drug trials. So is it fair to say that females were "excluded" from clinical research? As the Institute of Medicine explained, "The literature is inconclusive about whether women have been excluded or importantly underrepresented in clinical trials" (5). Nonetheless, more than half of all participants in the Framingham Heart Study, which started in the early 1950s, were female. And beginning in 1970, women were equally represented in high blood pressure trials (6). By 1996, women's heart and lung disease research was funded to the tune of $220 million, compared to only $199 million for men (7). And men still face twice the risk of death.

Slighted by Cancer Research: In the earliest analysis of enrollment by gender, men composed only 40% of adults recruited into cancer trials (8), despite the fact that men's cancer death rates were almost 50% higher than women (4). This disparity has worsened over time, as revealed by a comparison of funding for breast and prostate cancer research. Each year, more people are diagnosed with prostate cancer than breast cancer. In 1991, the National Institutes of Health spent $92.7 million on breast cancer research, compared to $13.8 million on prostate cancer (9). Despite all the efforts to increase prostate cancer funding, the gap only widened during the following years: By 1998, $348.6 million went to breast cancer, while prostate cancer garnered only $89.5 million.

A Troubling Disparity, Any Way You Count It: In cancer research, prostate cancer has always been dramatically underfunded, and men have long been underrepresented in clinical trials. Any way you look at it—--sex-specific budget allocations, declining male participation in NIH studies, or comparative risk of death—--over the past decade, men's health has been shortchanged by medical research.

1. NIH Advisory Committee on Women's Health Issues: NIH Support for Research on Women's and Men's Health Issues, Fiscal Years 1988, 1989, and 1990. NIH Publication No. 92-3456.
2. Office of Research on Women's Health: NIH Support for Research on Women's Health Issues, FY 1995-96, Table 11.
3. Office of Research on Women's Health: Implementation of the NIH Guidelines on the Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Subjects in Clinical Research, December 1998.
4. Department of Health and Human Services: Health, United States, 1998, Table 31.
5. Bennett JC: Inclusion of women in clinical trials. N Engl J Med 1993; 329: 288-291.
6. Young K, Satel S: The myth of gender bias in medicine. Washington, DC: Women's Freedom Network, 1997, p. 6.
7. Office of Research on Women's Health: NIH Support for Research on Women's Health Issues, Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996. Table 10. 8. Ungerleider RS, Friedman MA: Sex, trials, and datatapes. J National Cancer Institute 1991; 83: 16-17.
9. National Cancer Institute: Research Dollars by Various Cancers.

Contact: Men's Health America,

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