Does country-context matter? A cross-national analysis of gender and leisure time physical inactivity in Europe


Charlotte Van Tuyckom, Sarah Van de Velde, Piet Bracke
European Journal of Public Health, advance access published 1.03.2012.


Background: It is well known that European women are less physically active in their leisure time than European men. Attempts to explain this gender difference often do not succeed in raising the problem above the individual level. However, the size of the disadvantage for women varies considerably across countries, proving that leisure time physical (in)activity takes place in a broader societal context and must also be approached as such. In this sense, some authors have explained women’s lack of leisure time physical activity in terms of gendered power relations in society. Therefore, the present article postulates that over and above the individual effect of gender, there is an additional impact of a society’s gender-based (in)equality distribution. 
Methods: By means of the 2005 Eurobarometer survey (comprising 25 745 adults from 27 European countries), gender differences in leisure time physical inactivity (LTPI) were analysed by means of multilevel logistic regression analysis. National gender-based (in)equality was measured by the Gender Empowerment Measure and the Gender Gap Index.
Results: Controlled for compositional effects, gender differences in LTPI varied as a function of gender-related characteristics at the macro-level. In particular, in countries characterized by high levels of gender-based equality, LTPI differences between men and women even disappeared. 
Conclusion: The findings underscore the need to adopt a society-level approach and to incorporate socio-contextual factors in the study of gender disparities in LTPI.