Why Women Live Longer Than Men (#GotBitcoin?)
Women benefited more from major health advances from the 19th century into the 1970s; the gap narrows. Why Women Live Longer Than Men (#GotBitcoin?)
Why have women have been living longer than men everywhere in the world since the mid-19th century?
To find out, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, an economist at the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, dug through statistics collected through various sources, including the global Human Mortality Database.
Looking just at the U.S. from 1880 to about 2015, life expectancy increased 67% for men—to 77 years from 47—but grew even more for women, whose life expectancy rose 71% to 82 years from 48, he says.
The biggest factors in this widening gap? Women benefited more from certain major health advances over the years.
By the early 20th century, the burden of infectious diseases started dropping for both men and women, but the decline helped women disproportionately because women were more likely to die from infectious diseases like the virulent flu, Dr. Ortiz-Ospina says. What’s more, many women in that same era died while giving birth.
“Over the following decades, medical advances reduced the burden of infectious diseases, and there was also a reduction in maternal mortality,” he says. This helped women proportionally more, and hence contributed to the widening of the longevity gap.
However, in the 1970s, that gender gap in life expectancy began to shrink in the U.S. Among people who survived past 45, women lived on average about six years more than men in the 1970s; in 2014, they outlived men by fewer than four, he says.
One obvious factor was that per capita cigarette smoking began to drop in the 1970s, particularly among men. “The shrinking could be partly explained, for example, by the fact that men in the U.S. are smoking less today than then,” he says. But Dr. Ortiz-Ospina says that other factors aren’t well understood.
There are unhealthy behaviors that are more common among men—such as smoking and suicide—while there are external factors that benefit women more, including sex-specific medical advances.
And, of course, there’s genetics. “The evidence shows that differences in chromosomes and hormones between men and women do affect longevity,” he says.
Men tend to have more fat surrounding the organs, or visceral fat, while women tend to have more fat sitting directly under the skin, or subcutaneous fat. “That matters for longevity because fat surrounding the organs predicts cardiovascular disease, which is higher among men,” Dr. Ortiz-Ospina says.
One remaining mystery: Dr. Ortiz-Ospina adds that while women have lower mortality rates, they aren’t sick less often. They also have more doctor visits, disability days and hospital stays than men, according to some research. “It’s paradoxical that mortality rates are higher for men, while women get just as sick as men,” he says.
It could be that women are biologically better at dealing with diseases. Or it could be behavioral. “It really is a puzzle that requires more research,” Dr. Ortiz-Ospina says.
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