Why Men Die Earlier than WomenApril 4, 2020
Everyone desires to live long. Some people have the desire to live up to 100 years, and some, longer. While this desire is quite legitimate, it often happens that people die when they did not expect. Historically, women have always lived longer than men and this trend would continue for reasons discussed hereunder. Even with the risk associated with childbirth, women have continued to live longer than men and it appears that women have out-survived men at least since the AD 1500 when the first reliable mortality data were obtained. So, why men die earlier than women?
The fact that women live longer than men does not necessarily mean that women enjoy better health than men. It appears that women live with their diseases, while men die from them. Indeed, there is a difference between the sexes in disease patterns, with women having more chronic non-fatal conditions – such as arthritis, and men having more fatal conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
Wherever women live in the world, they live longer than men. The gap between male and female life expectancy is higher in high-income countries where women live about six years longer than men. In low-income countries, the difference is about three years. Women in Japan have the longest life expectancy in the world at 87 years, followed by Spain, Switzerland and Singapore with 85 years each, according to a WHO 2016 data. Female life expectancy in the top 10 countries with the longest life expectancy was 84 years. Life expectancy for men was 80 years in nine countries, with the longest male life expectancy in Iceland, Switzerland and Australia.
In sub-Sahara Africa, life expectancy for both men and women is still less than 55 years in Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
It is a fact that men enjoy certain physical advantages over women. On average, men are physically stronger, taller, faster and less likely to be overweight. But none of these traits matters over the long run. For whatever the physical virtues of masculinity, sadly, longevity is not among them.
So why do women live longer than men? As has been noted earlier, women generally live longer than men. In all developed countries and most developing ones, women outlive men, sometimes by a margin of up to 10 years. The gender discrepancy is most pronounced in the very old. Among centenarians worldwide, women outnumber men in the ratio of 9:1. The gender gap has broadened this century as gains in female life expectancy have surpassed those for males.
According to Thomas T. Perls and Ruth C. Fretts, the death rates for women are lower than those for men at all ages – even before birth. They posited that although boys start life with some numerical advantage, their numbers are preferentially whittled down thereafter. More boys than girls die in infancy. And during each successive year of life, mortality rates for males surpass those for females, so that by age 25, women would be in the majority.
Why do men die young? And why do women die old?
Available evidence points to behavioural as well as biological differences between the sexes, differences in the effects of medical technology, as well as social and psychological factors. Women have a biological advantage that enables them to live longer. Today, given the progress made in female life conditions, women have not just regained their biological advantage but have gone a lot beyond it. This is because they engage in fewer behaviours that are bad for health than men do and because they profit from advances in healthcare and living conditions than men.
Why Men Die Earlier Than Women
In the following paragraphs, we shall be looking at some of the factors affecting male and female life expectancy. In other words, we shall be discussing why women generally live longer than men and why men mostly die before women.
Sex Hormones Experts suspect that gender differences in mortality patterns may be influenced at least in part by sex hormones, namely the male hormone (testosterone) and the female hormone (oestrogen). The conspicuous peak in the sex-mortality ratio at puberty, for example, coincides with increased testosterone production in men. Because the male hormone has been linked to aggression, competitiveness and libido, some researchers ascribe this to “testosterone toxicity.” And later in life, testosterone puts men at risk biologically as well as behaviourally. It increases blood levels of the bad cholesterol and decreases levels of the good one, putting men at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Lifestyle and Behaviour
Behaviour-related fatalities are still among the most common causes of death among men and are still much higher in men than in women. Men are more than twice likely to die in car accidents, compared to women, for example, and almost four times likely to take their own lives.
There are fundamental differences in lifestyles that allow women to better benefit from the general progress in health. For instance, although women now participate massively in the workforce, their roles remain different and their professional activities are, on average, less prejudicial to their health. Besides, women always relate to their bodies, health and life in general in a much different and better way than men.
- Illnesses and Diseases
Illnesses relating to smoking and alcohol consumption kill more men than women. Heart disease is the main cause of the gender gap here. Men experience an exponential increase in the risk of heart diseases beginning in their 40s. In contrast, women’s risk of dying from heart-related ailments does not begin to rise until after menopause, and it approaches the male risk only in extreme old age.
- Biological Factors
As we have mentioned, sex hormones are thought to be important factors in determining the relative susceptibilities of the genders to ageing and disease. What is not obvious is the contribution that menstruation makes to female longevity. Because of the monthly shedding of the uterine lining, pre-menopausal women typically have 20 per cent less blood in their bodies than men and a correspondingly lower iron load. Because irons are essential for the formation of oxygen radicals, a lower iron load could lead to a lower rate of ageing, cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases in which oxygen radicals play a role.
In her book, Why Men Die First: How to Lengthen Your Life Span by Marianne J. Legato, male mortality is shorter in part because males are more fragile and inherently vulnerable than females from birth. And unlike women who fight hard to have their specific health needs validated and addressed, men have not demanded equal treatment.
- Chromosomal Factors
Chromosomal differences between male and female may also affect their mortality rates. The sex-determining chromosomes may carry genetic mutations that cause different life-threatening diseases. Because women have two X chromosomes, a female with an abnormal gene on one of the X chromosomes can use the normal gene on the other and avoid the expression of disease. Men, on the other hand, have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, and so they cannot rely on any alternative if a gene on one of the chromosomes is defective.
More generally, the genetic difference between the sexes is associated with better resistance to biological ageing. Additionally, female hormones and the role of women in reproduction have been linked to greater longevity. Estrogen, for instance, helps the elimination of bad cholesterol and thus offer some protection against heart disease. Testosterone, on the other hand, has been linked to violence and risk-taking.
- Cultural Conditioning
According to Legato, men’s medical challenges owe a great deal to cultural conditioning where men are expected to endure pains and not show weakness in any form. Many men only seek medical counsel when under duress from a spouse or when their condition has deteriorated to a severe state while women can logically ask for help very early.
- Women Take Fewer Risks
Unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death in men, and the sixth cause of death for women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This can be blamed on biology as the frontal lobes of the brain which deal with responsibility and risk calculation, develop more slowly in men than women.
- Women succumb to heart disease later
Heart disease is a leading killer of both men and women, but men are more prone to develop it – and die from it – as early as their 30s and 40s. Women, on the other hand, characteristically develop heart disease 10 years later than men. They are protected from it until menopause since their bodies churn out estrogen, which helps keep arteries strong and flexible.
- Women have stronger social networks
People with strong social connections have a 50% less chance of dying than those with few social ties, according to a 2010 research at Brigham Young University. Most men hold their stress and worries close to their chest, while women typically reach out and talk to others. The exception here is married men, which studies have shown that they are likely to be healthier and live longer.
- Women take better care of their health
Men are less likely to visit a doctor than women. Men often deny illnesses. They minimise symptoms because they do not want to go to a doctor and find out that something is wrong with them.
Men Can Live Longer Life
No one wants to think about ageing and dying, including the men. However, your lifestyle now can play a big role in how long you can live, and how much life you will have in your years. There are healthy habits you can adopt (as men) to help you live a longer for you and your family.
Keep an eye on this Blog as our next post will be discussing “how men can live longer“. Even if you are a woman reading this post, you have a role to play to help “your man” live longer for you. You don’t want to miss it.
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- World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- Marianne J. Legato