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Gender and the risk of falling: a sociological approach


  • Khim Horton

    1. Khim Horton BSc PhD RGN RCNT RNT PGCEA Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Centre for Research in Nursing and Midwifery Education, European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Surrey, UK
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Title. Gender and the risk of falling: a sociological approach

Aim.  This paper reports a grounded theory study of the influence of gender on older people's perceptions of their risk of falling and their actions to prevent future falls.

Background.  The incidence and rates of falls among older people, including injurious falls, are of much international concern. The risk of falling remains a major concern for older people since it increases with age, with those aged 85 years and over at greatest risk. However, research using a sociological approach to the topic is limited.

Methods.  An exploratory design, with grounded theory analysis, was used. Data were collected during 2001 through in-depth interviews with a convenience sample of 40 older people living in south east of England.

Findings.  Two core categories emerged: gendered meanings of risk and gendered responsibility. The social construction of the meaning of the risk of falling and of participants’ actions was gendered. Older men and women had specific ways of talking about their ‘risk’ and identifying the risk factors for falling. Older men perceived themselves as ‘responsible’ and ‘rational’ individuals who expected to reduce their own risk of falling. Older women's expectations of themselves and of their peers explained their tendency to blame themselves or others for their falls. These perceptions influenced the actions they took to prevent future falls.

Conclusion.  Nurses and other healthcare professionals need to take account of the gendered meanings attached to falling by older men and women when carrying out risk assessments and giving advice on fall prevention.