Why do women live longer than men?

Biological and behavioural factors may partly explain why women live longer than men.

Why do women live longer than men?

Health Check: why do women live longer than men?

Biology and behaviour can explain why men tend to die younger than women. From shutterstock.com Melinda Martin-Khan, The University of Queensland

In Australia, an average baby boy born in 2016 could expect to live to 80, while a baby girl born at the same time could expect to live until closer to 85. A similar gap in life expectancy between men and women is seen around the world.

As we better understand why people die, we’re learning how biological and behavioural factors may partly explain why women live longer than men.

Scientific advancements also impact the health of women and men differently.


Read more: Australian women outlive men then struggle with disadvantage


Biology and behaviour

While women may live longer than men, they report more illnesses, more doctor visits and more hospital stays than men. This is known as the morbidity-mortality paradox (that is, women are sicker but live longer).

One explanation is that women suffer from illnesses less likely to kill them. Examples of chronic non-fatal illnesses more common in women include migraines, arthritis and asthma. These conditions may lead to poorer health, but don’t increase a woman’s risk of premature or early death.

But men are more susceptible to health conditions that can kill them. For example, men tend to have more fat surrounding their organs (called visceral fat) and women tend to have more fat under their skin (called subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, the leading underlying cause of death for Australian men.

Coronary heart disease, which results from a combination of biological factors and lifestyle habits, is a major reason for the difference in mortality between men and women.

Other biological factors may contribute to men ageing faster than women, but these remain to be fully understood. For example, testosterone in men contributes to their generally larger bodies and deeper voices. In turn, this may accelerate the age-related changes in their bodies compared to women.

On the flip side, women may have a slight advantage from protective factors connected with oestrogen. Coronary heart disease has been observed as three times lower in women than in men before menopause, but not after, indicating that endogenous oestrogens could have a protective effect in women.


Read more: Not just about sex: throughout our bodies, thousands of genes act differently in men and women


Some behaviours that can lead to an earlier death are more common in men. Accidental deaths, including those caused by assault, poisoning, transport accidents, falls and drownings, are particularly high among young males aged 15-24.

Men also have a greater tendency to smoke, eat poorly and avoid exercise. These habits lead to often fatal chronic illnesses, including stroke and type 2 diabetes, and are also risk factors for dementia.

Developments in science and public health

Many scientific discoveries have led to improved clinical practice or changes in government health policies that have benefited the lives of women.

For example, innovations in birth control have enabled greater choice and control over family size and timing. This has resulted in fewer pregnancies that may have led to dangerous births, and improved general physical and mental health for women. Improved clinical care has resulted in fewer women dying during childbirth.

As people reach an older age, the gap in life expectancy narrows. From shutterstock.com

Public health programs such as screening for breast cancer have had impacts on life expectancy over time. Similarly, vaccines to prevent cervical cancer have now been distributed in 130 countries.

Of course, there have been similar public health policies and clinical innovations that have benefited men too, like screening for bowel caner.

So although we may have some insights, we can’t conclusively answer why women continue to live longer than men.

Mind the gap

The gap between men and women decreases the longer they live. In 2016, at birth in Australia, the gap was 4.2 years, with a male expected to die at 80 on average. But as that male gets older, the gap decreases to 2.7 years at age 65, to one year at age 85 and to just 0.3 years at age 95.

This suggests men who live to an older age have been able to avoid certain health risks, giving them a greater prospect of a longer life.


Read more: Indigenous health leaders helped give us a plan to close the gap, and we must back it


Ultimately, none of us have control of when or how we’re going to die. But paying attention to factors that we can change (such as maintaining a healthy diet, doing exercise and avoiding smoking) can reduce the risk of dying earlier from a preventable chronic disease.

While women may always live longer than men, by a year or two, men can try to make some lifestyle changes to reduce this gap. That being said, women should work towards these goals for a long and healthy life, too.The Conversation

Melinda Martin-Khan, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    Franky
    8th Aug 2019
    12:10pm
    Could it also be that men are more risk takers than women? Looking at accident statistics this would be confirmed. Also men have generally a bigger ego, 'I'll be right mate' attitude. This stops them from seeking medical advice whereas women would not hesitate to see a doctor.
    casey
    8th Aug 2019
    12:41pm
    Perhaps it is the work which men do. I know during the sixties and seventies, I handled a lot of things like asbestos. I used to be covered in the stuff. Nobody informed us of the hazzards in those days.
    KB
    8th Aug 2019
    1:05pm
    There are god reason why men may live less than women. They had riskier jobs in the building industry with asbestos. A painter told me that he had skin cancer . The slip slop slap was not around when h was painting, Women do on average go to the doctors more than men, Our diets have changed over years due to fast food being available increasing obesity. Our grandparents lived on good healthy food which they had right.
    KB
    8th Aug 2019
    1:05pm
    There are god reason why men may live less than women. They had riskier jobs in the building industry with asbestos. A painter told me that he had skin cancer . The slip slop slap was not around when h was painting, Women do on average go to the doctors more than men, Our diets have changed over years due to fast food being available increasing obesity. Our grandparents lived on good healthy food which they had right.

    8th Aug 2019
    3:22pm
    Men do the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, are the sex who fights wars (to protect women and children), are more likely to be homeless and unemployed. The list goes on and on. The life-expectancy gap puts the lie to feminism: it's MEN who need equality because women are privileged.
    casey
    8th Aug 2019
    3:31pm
    Look out Intellego. I think you could have just started something with that last comment. HAHA.
    roy
    8th Aug 2019
    4:14pm
    Married men live longer than single men, or does it just seem longer?
    Knight Templar
    8th Aug 2019
    4:29pm
    Why do married men die before their wives ... because they want to!
    Greg
    8th Aug 2019
    4:50pm
    Men work hard all their lives and wear themselves out sooner. Woman lounge around doing nothing. :)
    TREBOR
    8th Aug 2019
    5:10pm
    Well..... (wait for it)...... women have a case hardened sense of entitlement and of (these days) revenge, so they seek to ensure that they out-live the men who have been arbitrarily deemed their 'oppressor'. If you doubt me, look at the never-ending demand to hold all the top spots in the land and hold down all the top spots in the best paid professions, and all facilitated by a perversion of the school education system, and artificial advancement in all fields on demand.

    Man - what Ol' Rastus'd give for ONE day o' dat Wo-man O-ppression dere, Lord - jes' ONE day! Den Ah goes to ma maker with a smile!!

    No wonder some 'men' are seeking to become 'women'.. (rolls eyes)..... they expect, in some twisted thinking way, to get sudden access to all the benefits that are handed around on demand to whiners - The Power Of Whine....
    leek
    16th Aug 2019
    6:14pm
    Trebor -You are a horrible MAN!! On average 1 women DIES every week at the hands of a MAN. In fact it might be more than 1 a week.
    Is that the Revenge you are talking about? yep I would be out for blood if any man seriously hurt my baby girls- not matter what their age.
    If there were less arrogant men like you in this world, then us women wouldn't have to harden up. It is our dream to be taken
    care of by a good man. But when men fail We STEP UP!!


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