With advancements in medicine and healthcare facilities, human beings live longer than they could in the past. But despite this, the gap between the lifespan of men and women still prevails.
The U.S. Census Bureau researchers say that by 2060, the life expectancy of women will reach 87.3 years compared to 83.9 years for men.
More men succumb to diseases than women. Is it merely the lifestyle, or is the cause deeply rooted in biology?
The disparity in life expectancies of men and women
The life expectancy for women is 85.6 years, while for men, it is 81.9 years. On average, a woman lives 4-5 years more than a man.
It is a trend that exists globally! Studies suggest that women possess a genetic advantage over men, while environmental factors act as a catalyst.
Let’s look at some of the causes responsible for this divide.
Biological and Genetic causes
Estrogen hormone could be giving women an edge over men! Estrogen is no ordinary hormone; it is life-sustaining.
In our body, there is a battle between oxidation and anti-oxidants. An unhealthy lifestyle, taking too much stress, not getting enough nutrition are critical contributors to oxidation.
Anti-oxidants counteract oxidation. Anti-oxidants come from external sources like your diet. There should be a balance between these two forces in the body. In case the balance is disturbed, free radicals build up in the body.
Free radicals are unpaired electrons creating unstable atoms. They can damage the DNA and cells of the body.
It turns out that Estrogen acts as an anti-oxidant. The hormone counters oxidation and brings balance.
Estrogen activates the longevity genes. They bring down the bad cholesterol and increase the levels of good cholesterol. Testosterone does not do this function, which is why men are more prone to cardiovascular heart diseases.
It is found that even though women live longer, their health deteriorates as they age. The onset of menopause is the primary reason, as it impacts the level of Estrogen. In old age, they are susceptible to develop bone and joint-related issues. But this could also have a paradoxical effect. The diseases might activate immune responses, which help them live longer.
Testosterone can do a lot more than attributing masculine features. Its function is not restricted to growing a beard and broader frame. It increases metabolism and burns fat tissues, primarily helping in muscle building.
But sometimes, it can be a double-edged sword because it does not just do good things!
Researchers conducted a multitude of experiments over the years to explain the link between testosterone and lifespan.
Korean Researchers conducted an interesting study on Eunuchs who served the royal families.
Shreds of evidence from the records of 81 Eunuchs of the Korean Empire were examined. Findings suggest that the Eunuchs lived longer than non-castrated males of the same social status. Three of the Eunuchs lived for 100 years. Even the king, with all the luxury and a better quality of life, could not live for that long.
Testosterone plays a vital role in reducing the life span of men!
By now, we have arrived at an understanding that sex hormones can impact the immune system. While Estrogen is immune improving, testosterone is immune suppressive.
It also implies that men are more susceptible to diseases. The recent pandemic has shown exciting trends.
Another study that undertook has associated biological stability with the lifespan of men. It indicated that men’s protein levels change at a significantly higher rate than women.
While it is easier to presume that women may have more complications in their reproductive health, they go through different phases right from the onset of menstruation, childbirth, further hitting menopause. There have been cases of death at the time of delivery. But this does not necessarily indicate a higher mortality rate among women.
On the contrary, higher death rates have been recorded among men. As men age, testosterone can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Even though it is not solely responsible for developing cancer, testosterone levels affect the functioning of the prostate gland.
The therapies for prostate cancer involve controlling testosterone production to prevent it from reaching the cancer cells. However, testosterone helps in the proliferation of cancer cells. In other words, there is a link between testosterone and cancer cells.
Revisiting our biology class, we have studied that men and women have 22 pairs of chromosomes that are similar. But the last pair, the 23rd one, is called the sex chromosome. It’s different for men and women; that is what decides a person’s gender.
Women have XX sex chromosomes while men have XY sex chromosomes. Having a double X chromosome means that women possess a copy of every gene. In case of malfunctioning, these act as a backup. Cells tend to get impaired as we age. It explains why more men develop diseases like diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and coronary heart disease.
Also, the heart rate of women increases during the menstrual cycle. The increased heart rate can compensate for moderate exercise.
Some researchers claim that lifespan has to do with the size of the body. Taller and bigger bodies show more harmful mutations. Energy also burns at a faster rate. Assuming that men are taller and larger than women, these changes impact men broadly. It further leads to a plethora of diseases in men.
There are differences in mortality rates among both sexes. The mortality rate is higher among male infants. It is because there is a higher probability of males being born prematurely. The conditions arising from premature birth put their lives at stake.
Alcohol and drugs are cutting your life short!
Social and cultural factors often decide our lifestyle. For instance, in most cultures, it is taboo for women to indulge in the pleasures of drinking and smoking. Men are more likely to smoke, drink and consume drugs.
According to statistics, Russian men die 13 years earlier than Russian women. Reports from 2018 suggest that there are 11 million more women in Russia than men. Out of these, 25% of men die before they reach the age of 55. The simple reason being, Russian men, are heavy consumers of alcohol and cigarettes, reducing their average life expectancy to just 65 years.
Also, at the same time, with an increase in the popularity of smoking among American women, the life expectancy gap has reduced from 8 years to 5 years.
Men indulge in anti-social activities
High testosterone levels in men can trigger violent responses as they find a way to channelize their energy. It pretty much explains why adolescent males are always brimming with energy and pick up fights frequently.
Men are more prone to deaths caused by road accidents, murder, and suicide.
Women take care of their health
Women visit the doctor for regular check-ups more often than men, the frequency increases since childbirth. Women tend to be more health-conscious and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
While men don’t feel the need to see a doctor unless they are ill, they are more likely to visit during their later stages of life after developing health complications and chronic diseases.
Exposure to hazardous jobs
It is common to primarily see men in high-risk occupations, such as mine workers or pipeline workers. Constant exposure to hazardous materials like lead and radiation can have detrimental effects on health, which ultimately affects the life span. Death caused by injuries and traumas is not rare in this field of work.
Scientists have observed similar tendencies in the animal kingdom. Mice, gibbon, and lions also have females living longer. Based on the findings, scientists can draw a parallel with humans.
The lioness, for example, has a 50% higher life expectancy than lions. Lionesses essentially live with their mothers and sisters and take care of each other while the lions battle. There is competition among males for being able to mate with females.
Just like males of the human species, violent and aggressive behavior in this case again brings doom! On the other hand, the caring and tender nature of females let them live longer.
What is the trend on the global map?
Countries like Hong Kong and Japan have higher expectancies where average men and women live for 87.8 years and 82 years, respectively. However, in African countries, life expectancy is as low as 53.6 and 51.4 years for women and men, respectively.
Based on the statistics, African countries have witnessed a breakout of deadly diseases like HIV and Malaria. Life expectancy has always been on the lower side, clubbed with inadequate health facilities and mortality rates.
As opposed to this, people in Japan live longer because of their healthy lifestyle. Their diet is mainly composed of fresh foods.
All this points to the fact that, even though biological makeup significantly decides a person’s lifespan, environmental factors also influence the lifespan.
It is right to conclude that you can change your lifestyle while you cannot change your gender! Men need not be disappointed because just making changes in your life can help you live longer.