Gender Equality Is Driven By Fighting Germs and Infectious Diseases: Researchers

University of Miami pediatrician Judith L. Schaechter, M.D. gives a HPV vaccination to a 13-year-old girl, Miami, Florida, September 21, 2011. Scientists have concluded that such immunizations stimulate gender equality by giving women the confidence not to rush having children with expectations of longer life. Joe Raedle/Getty

Gender equality over the last 50 years has been driven by fighting germs, according to researchers.

Scientists at Arizona State University have found that by establishing a greater medical response to infectious diseases in the U.S. and the U.K. young women have been given a leg up, narrowing the gap between the sexes.

If women grow up with the threat of falling gravely ill, they rush to have children and make more short-term goals, abandoning education and career progression. But by ensuring that all babies are immunized and public health systems are improved upon, feminism is able to flourish, the researchers said.

"On the other hand, if rates of infectious disease go up due to growing antibiotics resistance, advances in gender equality could begin to unravel," lead researcher Michael Varnum told New Scientist.

Varnum and his team investigated whether four different threats—infectious disease, resource scarcity, war and climate stress—had effects on gender equality in the last 70 years. He said the only strong predictor was the threat of infectious disease.