Gendering the migraine market: Do representations of illness matter?

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Migraine is a common, debilitating and costly disorder. Yet help-seeking for and rates of diagnosis of migraine are low. Drawing on ethnographic observations of pharmaceutical marketing practices at professional headache conferences and a content analysis of migraine advertising, principally in the USA, this paper demonstrates: (1) that the pharmaceutical industry directs its marketing of migraine medication to women; and (2) as part of this strategy, pharmaceutical advertisements portray women as the prototypical migraine sufferer, through representations that elicit hegemonic femininity. This strategy creates the impression that migraine is a "women's disorder", which, in turn, exacerbates gender bias in help seeking and diagnosis of migraine and reifies presumptions about the epidemiology of the disorder. I conclude that these pharmaceutical marketing practices have a paradoxical effect: even as they educate and raise awareness about migraine, they also create barriers to help seeking and diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1986-1997
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Gender
  • Headache
  • Migraine
  • Pharmaceutical advertising
  • USA


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