Historically, women have consistently lived longer than their male counterparts. In 2018, the average life expectancy was 76.2 years for men and 81.2 years for women.
A wife recently asked her husband, “Why do you assume you’ll die before me?”, he answered by matter-of-factly as he could with one word: Statistics.
On average, women live longer than men. In fact, 57% of all those ages 65 and older are female. By age 85, 67% are women. The average lifespan is about 5 years longer for women than men in the U.S, and about 7 years longer worldwide.
It’s not hard to see the gender gap among the elderly. A glance around most nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the U.S often tells the story: women will usually outnumber men, and the magnitude of the difference is often striking.
So Why Do Men, on Average, Die First? Here are the largest contributing factors to male mortality:
There are many reasons why the ratio of men to women (which is roughly equal in young adulthood) starts to favor women over time.
Among the most powerful factors? Men tend to:
1. Take Bigger Risks: Some of the reason seems to be “biological destiny.” The frontal lobe of the brain the part that controls judgment and consideration of an action’s consequences develops more slowly in boys and young men than in their female counterparts. Men are 10 times more likely than women to be killed at work. Of the top 25 most dangerous jobs in the U.S., men overwhelmingly dominate each field. These positions include firefighters, construction laborers, machine operators, maintenance and repair workers.
This may contribute to the fact that far more boys and men die in accidents or due to violence than girls and women. Examples include biking, driving drunk, and homicide. This tendency toward lack of judgment and consideration of consequences may also contribute to detrimental lifestyle decisions among young men, such as smoking or drinking to excess.
2. Have More Dangerous Jobs: Men far outnumber women in some of the riskiest occupations, including military combat, firefighting, and working at construction sites. In the U.S., the leading cause of death for both men and women is heart disease. Yet, men tend to develop it earlier in life and are 50% more likely to die from it. This can be due to excessive smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as stress, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
3. Die of Heart Disease More Often and at a younger age. In fact, men are 50% more likely than women to die of heart disease. The fact that men have lower estrogen levels than women may be part of the reason. But medical risks, such as poorly treated high blood pressure or unfavorable cholesterol levels, may contribute as well.
4. Be Larger Than Women: Across many species, larger animals tend to die younger than smaller ones. Although the magnitude of this effect is uncertain in humans, it may work against male longevity.
5. Commit Suicide More Often Than Women: This is true despite the fact that depression is considered more common among women and women make more (non-fatal) suicide attempts. Some attribute this to the tendency for men to avoid seeking care for depression and the cultural norms that discourage men from seeking help for mental illness. Due to stigma surrounding treatment, mental health issues continue to disproportionately affect the male population. Men die by suicide three times more often than women. In fact, white men accounted for nearly 70%.
6. Be Less Socially Connected: For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, people with fewer and weaker social connections (which tends to include men more often than women) tend to have higher death rates.
7. Avoid Doctor’s Visit: According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are far more likely to skip routine health screens and far less likely than women to have seen a doctor of any kind during the previous year.
Men are less likely to attend routine doctor’s visits to receive recommended health screenings. Some subscribe to old-fashioned beliefs that enforce self-sufficiency and denounce social support. Many are also conditioned to be dismissive of any physical or emotional pain.
The uneven playing field for boys starts early. The Y chromosome tends to develop mutations more often than X chromosomes and the lack of a second X chromosome in men means that X-linked abnormalities among boys are not “masked” by a second, normal version.
Survival in the womb is also less reliable for male fetuses (for uncertain, and probably multiple, reasons). Developmental disorders are also more common among boys; some of these could shorten life expectancy.
How Can Men Add Years To Their Lives?
Actively monitoring one’s health can stop serious problems before they begin. Start by implementing the following changes:
• Destigmatize Mental Health: Men should feel empowered to take control of their mental health. The first step is reducing the stigma associated with asking for help for conditions like depression and anxiety. That means acknowledging the problem and educating themselves on causes and treatment options.
• Eat Better and Move More: Aim for a portion-controlled diet consisting of lean protein, whole grains, heart-healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Adult males should engage in moderate movement, such as brisk walking for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, unless a doctor recommends otherwise
• Regular Doctor’s Visits: A primary care physician is integral to any health care regimen. A doctor can provide professional guidance and preventive care in the form of health screenings and in some cases, medication. Men should talk to their physician to learn about early detection of chronic conditions such as depression, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The timeline for health screenings and individual coverage can vary by insurance plan. In certain cases, exceptions may be made for those who are at a higher risk for specific diseases.