The numbers speak volumes, and they show that women live longer than men, with the average lifespan of a woman being 81 and for men being 76. Not only do women live longer than their male counterparts, but they also tend to have more healthy years as they age with the average healthy years being 70 for women, three years over a male’s typical 67 healthy years. So why do women live longer than men? Theories are divided but the gap is apparent, and not only apparent in the United States but also across the globe. So what factors can help account for women’s increase in longevity?
While both men and women partake of bad habits, men tend to participate in these bad habits, more often, for longer periods of time, and also in greater excess. On average more smokers and heavy drinkers are males and males also tend to overeat and eat more unhealthy, and more often than women. This makes them more prone to lung, throat, and mouth cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular problems, all of which can lead to fatal complications.
A common complaint among wives is that their husbands are the most challenging patients. And while this anecdote is typically delivered with a little bit of humor, it actually holds true in many ways. Men are less likely to seek out treatment when they are ill and less likely to adhere to treatments that are prescribed for their condition. They are also far less likely to maintain regular well visits and take part in other preventative health practices. By failing to complete the necessary treatment, they can leave themselves more susceptible to long-term illness and complications from not treating current conditions.
Men’s heightened levels of testosterone can also result in a shorter life span. Increased levels of testosterone cause a decrease in immune function and also raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have been done that show males who were depleted of testosterone had an increased average life span of 14 to 19 years. While the exact inhibition of the immune system due to testosterone is not fully understood, it is believed that it tends to block some of the immune cells that help to fight disease.
Statistics show that men are more likely to suffer death or major injury from car accidents, fights, activities, and violence. They are also more likely to engage in life-threatening activities such as adrenaline sports. More deaths of men at younger ages from these activities can bring the average lifespan rate down, and major injuries sustained in accidents related to these activities can create long-term problems for men that may result in health concerns as they age.
Women may have a longer life span than men due to their hormone makeup as well. Women have significantly more estrogen, which has been shown to have protective qualities. Estrogen acts as an antioxidant, which helps to prevent damage to a woman’s DNA that can lead to a variety of diseases. The added estrogen that a woman’s body produces helps to maintain normal and healthy cell function.
There has also been evidence that shows that the different types of fat produced in men and women, caused by different hormones, can help increase longevity as well. Men will tend to have more visceral fat, which is fat that surrounds the organs of the body. Extra estrogen and an additional x chromosome cause women to produce more subcutaneous fat, which is fat located directly under the skin. When fat tends to be more prevalent around the organs, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are also theories that are entirely speculative but have gained traction as a possible reason for the life expectancy gap. One is a woman’s role as the primary child-rearer in most households. Even though the makeup of child rearing is pushing more toward a shared practice, currently, and especially decades ago, taking care of the day-to-day needs of children fell on the woman’s shoulders.
Women can go through a significant evolution in their body that can help them to withstand, endure, and bounce back from the trauma of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. These are challenges that the male body will never be exposed to and, after all of that, women are then endowed with a strong instinct to survive for their children. The need to continue this survival can be extremely strong, as many mothers feel their children will need them in their lives as long as possible. This can create a strong fight mechanism when facing ailments and illness and can also foster the need for them to lead a more healthy life so that they can be around for as long as they are needed.
While technology has definitely helped to extend the life of both men and women to achieve a much higher lifespan than a century ago, it has significantly reduced a number of reasons for women’s high mortality rate in the first place. Infectious disease was one of the leading causes of deaths in women in the 19th century, with women having an extremely higher contraction and mortality rate from such diseases. Many of the infectious diseases that led to higher rates of mortality no longer exist or are considered medically treatable in today’s society. Another cause of higher mortality in women a century ago was childbirth. Home births were the norm, even up until a few decades ago. These births could often result in severe complications for the mother, leading to death or severe disability.
Another popular theory on why women age differently and live longer is as simple as the fact that society pushes women to age more radiantly and the only way to truly do that is to eat a healthy diet, take care of your skin, regularly exercise, keep regular doctors appointments, and get adequate rest.
Women’s drive to survive and their ability to power through illness, combined with the additional hormonal benefits they enjoy seems to be a winning formula that helps women widen the gap when it comes to life span.