Origins of sex and gender differences

Sex and gender differences emerge from differences in genetics, hormones, and the environment.

The terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Sex refers to biological attributes, including genetics and reproductive organs. Gender is shaped by social and cultural influences and may or may not align with an individual’s biological sex. Both sex and gender can influence health.

Sex (and gender) differences in physiology and health can emerge as a result of several different factors. These include:

  1. Genetics
  2. Differences in anatomy
  3. Hormones – especially sex hormones
  4. Environmental impacts (relating to gender differences), such as domestic roles or cultural factors.

This figure demonstrates the origins of sex differences and the range of impacts/outcomes this can have, with some examples related to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.