Watch your step! Young women twice as likely to fall down stairs than men

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Young women are nearly twice as likely to suffer an injury while walking down stairs in comparison to men of the same age, a new study warns. This elevated risk is mainly attributable to wearing high heel shoes and talking on phones, according to the observational study of U.S. college students.

The study shows that women in their 20s are more likely to engage in potentially dangerous activities that distract them, such as multitasking or conversing while walking down stairs, compared to their male counterparts. Falling on stairs often leads to more severe injuries than other types of falls, according to the team from Purdue University.

The most susceptible groups to stair-related falls are children under three years-old, adults in their 20s, and adults over 85. In the young adult demographic, women have an 80-percent higher injury rate than men — the most significant disparity across all age and gender groups, with the exception of women over 80.

To understand why young women suffer more stair-related injuries than young men, the researchers videotaped two indoor staircases at a U.S. university: one consisting of two steps and the other of 17 steps. Throughout a semester, they analyzed the behavior of 2,400 young adults descending these stairs.

The team identified eight risky behaviors:

  • Failing to use the handrail
  • Not watching the stairs while descending
  • Wearing inappropriate footwear such as sandals, flip-flops, or high heels
  • Conversing in person or on a smartphone
  • Using an electronic device
  • Keeping hands in pockets
  • Carrying objects
  • Skipping steps
A woman falls down the stairs
A woman falls down the stairs (© auremar –

The study also witnessed five participants momentarily lose their balance, all of whom regained it. Four were men on the long staircase, and one was a woman on the short staircase.

“The young women we observed demonstrated more risky behaviors than the young men; future studies should also examine physiological differences that may lead to greater injury risk, such as differences in strength or reaction time,” the study authors write in a media release.

Women were notably less likely to use the handrail, more likely to carry something, engage in conversation, and wear sandals or high heels. They also exhibited a higher frequency of engaging in multiple risky behaviors simultaneously. However, they were less likely to skip steps and more attentive to the stair tread during transition steps than men.

One of the researchers suggested that women’s greater tendency to engage in in-person conversations on stairs might be attributed to their closer interaction with colleagues, as demonstrated by previous studies.

In conclusion, researchers suggest that women’s propensity for multitasking, which could lead to distraction while descending stairs, may be more dangerous than the typical male behaviors of skipping steps or not watching the stairs.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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