We have shown that women's lives and health are intertwined, and many women juggle a variety of roles, such as being a pupil, student, employee, partner, mother, daughter and friend. Many women are also caregivers and provide support to other persons, both within and outside of their household. Finding the balance between the different tasks may be challenging, and such balancing acts can manifest itself in the female body as various health problems. Pregnancies, births and menopause can also affect women’s health adversely, either physically or mentally.

Women's lives have changed quite a bit over the last 20 years. A higher share of women has completed higher education and are active in the labour force today than earlier. Although more women today work full time, many still work part time. Immigration to Norway has been fairly high, and the share of immigrant women has increased substantially. Family life is also changing: Fewer children are being born than before and women are waiting longer to have children. More women remain childless, while the share of women with many children has declined. There are also changes in partnership formation patterns. Younger people today wait longer before they establish a family, and fewer opt to marry and remain cohabiting. Still, most new mothers live with a partner. Over time, a larger share than previously experiences a break-up, and near 1 in 4 children have parents who move apart. The share of children in low-income families has thus increased over time. At the same time, a higher share of the oldest old women lives with a partner today, primarily because men live longer than before.

The social gradient in women’s health persists over time. In a life course perspective, children and youths appear to struggle more than before, related to e.g. mental health problems and loneliness. Headaches, body aches and sleep problems are also on the rise. At the same time, self-assessed health is far better among younger women compared to older women, primarily because young people are less likely to have permanent illnesses and functional disabilities. Most adult women (aged 25-44) report good health, and only a small share report poor health. Still, many live with various aches and pains. Some also experience various mental health problems, e.g. depression and anxiety. Near 50 percent of middle-aged women (aged 45-65) are satisfied with their lives today, and the quality of life has increased over time. Many also report good health, although a larger share than before report problems with sleep, aches and pains. Relatively many also report musculoskeletal problems, some have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, whereas relatively few experiences more serious cardiovascular conditions, e.g. infarction, angina or stroke. Elderly women living at home (aged 67 and over) report improved functioning and better health than earlier. This may be due to improvements in education but could also relate to better living habits and more effective medication. Around 3 in 4 elderly women report satisfaction with life, albeit the quality of life generally decreases with age. More elderly women than men report loneliness. Quite a few elderly women have multiple and complex health problems, and the proportion with various chronic conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular diseases and cancer is increasing. Near 1 in 4 elderly women report limitations in their daily lives due to health problems, and 1 in 3 aged 75 years and over report having sleeping problems. Among the very oldest, the prevalence of dementia is on the rise as life expectancy is increasing and more people reach the high ages where dementia is common.

Women use health services more than men, and their use varies across the life course and across sociodemographic characteristics, such as education, income and immigrant background. The number of people consulting a GP has increased somewhat over time, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. The GP use increases with age, and women in the age group 80-89 years use health services to the greatest extent when we look at the number of consultations per person. Women aged 30-49 also have many GP consultations, largely due to follow-ups of pregnancies and births. One of the most common reasons for seeing a GP is various musculoskeletal disorders, and most consultations (in total) are observed for middle-aged women (50-66 years).

In 2021, 4 in 10 women were admitted to a somatic hospital. The vast majority were treated as outpatients. Because most births take place in a hospital, pregnancies and births are common reasons for hospital stays among women, along with injuries, cardiovascular diseases and diseases of the digestive system. The share who has been hospitalized increases with age and is highest among the oldest women. The number of women with inpatient stays has decreased over time, as has the number of bed days per stay. This decline has been most pronounced among the oldest.

Various care services are used not only by the elderly, but increasingly also by younger age groups. Both the number of recipients and the number of services have increased over time. There are still more women than men receiving services. The share of women receiving services has decreased slightly in recent years. Somewhat fewer than before have long-term stays in institutions, even among the oldest women. Over time, the share of women receiving practical assistance at home has decreased, while the share receiving home health services has increased. The proportion of women with extensive need for assistance and the proportion of women with medium to large need for assistance have increased somewhat over time. The proportion of women with somewhat limited need for assistance is still the largest group (4 in 10).

In summary, we see persistent inequalities in morbidity, access to health services, experiences with the health service and health outcomes according to sociodemographic characteristics in all stages of the life course. We have shown that while the knowledge is relatively good in some areas of importance for women's lives and health, knowledge is rather scarce in other areas. There is a need for more knowledge related to

  • the importance of the various 'shifts' women take on, at home, in the workplace and in the local community,
  • the problematic aspect in that ‘unspecific’ symptoms largely characterize women's health, resulting in inadequate treatment and follow-up care, hindering effective interventions to ensure optimal quality of life, combining the various roles inherent to many female lives. The increase in young women’s mental health problems deserves attention,
  • challenges related to increased social inequality, both in the health area and in other areas of importance for women's health,
  • dementia. People over the age of 90 are projected to increase almost fivefold in the coming decades. In this age group, the dementia prevalence is 50 percent, with implications for health, use of health and care services, but also for the need for informal care from the immediate family. Since women largely assist in such care tasks, this can have implications for women’s health and lives also earlier in the life course.

Going forward, a broad societal perspective on women's experiences of health, quality of life and the need for health and care services are warranted, with more focus directed at the total burden in women’s everyday life. Taking on a life course perspective to help ensure healthy, good and independent lives matter also for work participation, the use of health-related benefits, and health and care service needs. This warrant increased collaboration across policy sectors, such as public health, housing, living conditions, integration, education etc. Future sociodemographic changes, as well as rapid technological and medical development, will increase the opportunities for health interventions, whereas the resource situation will mandate tough priority discussions.