Gender and hygiene: could cleanliness be hurting girls

Girls dirty and clean

In a new study, philosopher Sharon Clough of Oregon State University explores the link between the traditionally higher requirement of hygiene in little girls and the higher levels of asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases in women. Generally, little girls wear clothes that are less intended to get dirty and they play indoors more, meaning that there is a significant difference in the types and amounts of germs that girls and boys are exposed to, which might explain some of the health differences between men and women.

Clough proposes that old studies are re-examined keeping gender in mind. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the incidence of asthma in the US is 8.9% in women and 6.5% in men. The National Institutes of Health and Statistics show that autoimmune diseases strike women three times more than men, and the Task Force on Gender, Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmunity shows that among multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis the female to male ratio is between 2:1 and 3:1.

Clough believes that the link between hygiene, gender and disease is not ‘just a fluke’, and although she does not advocate taking your daughters outside and feeding them handfuls of soil, she does advocate encouraging children to play outdoors more, and even get a little dirty!

Source: Oregon State University

Click here for more research reports

First Published in November 2009

Top of page