The Current

There's a gender gap in medical data, and it's costing women their lives, says this author

Author Caroline Criado Perez explains how scientific and medical research can ignore women to focus on men's needs, and how this "data gap" can literally kill.

Caroline Criado Perez explores bias in research in her latest book, Invisible Women

Caroline Criado Perez is the author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed For Men. (Rachel Louise Brown; Abrams Press)

Read Story Transcript

Gender bias in data is a much broader issue than we think — and it's killing women, says feminist activist and author Caroline Criado Perez.

"We kind of are used to the idea that women are misrepresented and underrepresented in our culture, you know, in films, in the media," Criado Perez told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

But while working on her first book, she discovered research showing women are more likely than men to be misdiagnosed when having a heart attack, partly because women's symptoms are different and often more subtle than men's symptoms. Women are also more likely than men to die after a heart attack, according to Heart and Stroke.

"The idea that women were not only being underrepresented in culture but actually in data, in numbers, in medicine, was just like a red rag to a bull," said Criado Perez.

"I was so shocked and so angry that women were dying because of this."

Viagra could aid with PMS

Criado Perez lays out several real-world consequences of the gender data gap in her latest book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

Among the examples is Viagra, a drug that showed potential during clinical trials to relieve menstrual pain. Researchers have been denied funding to study the idea further "because it wasn't deemed a public health priority," she argued.

We're just so used to seeing a man as the default human.- Caroline Criado Perez

According to scientific studies aggregator site ResearchGate, studies on erectile dysfunction receive funding five times more often than studies on premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

"There's just this glaring disparity in how seriously women's health complaints are taken compared to male health complaints," she said.

"I think it's just that it's such a pervasive way of thinking — we're just so used to seeing a man as the default human."

The author sees a simple fix to the gender data gap: start collecting more data about women.

"It's not too difficult to change," she said. "What I will not accept is that women are dying, and I think that that is an incredibly compelling argument."

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Imogen Birchard.


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