Lifestyle factors and skipping medical care likely contribute to earlier deaths
When life expectancy reports are released, women invariably have a longer lifespan than men. In fact, 57 percent of all people 65 and older are women. By age 85, that woman-friendly number has jumped to 67 percent. The average lifespan is 5 years longer for women than men in this country.
Why, when the ratio of men to women is about equal in young adulthood, do the tides turn as people age?
Experts point to several factors:
Men are more likely to have dangerous jobs. There are far more men than women in some of the riskiest occupations, including firefighting, military combat and working construction jobs.
Though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, no matter what the gender, men die of heart disease more often and at a younger age. In fact, men are 50 percent more likely than women to die of heart disease. One possible reason for this is that men have lower estrogen levels than women; estrogen provides some protection from heart disease. But other medical risks, including untreated high blood pressure or unfavorable cholesterol levels, may contribute, too.
Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. This is the case even though depression is more common among women and women attempt suicide more often. Mental health professionals believe men are more likely to commit suicide because they avoid seeking care for depression.
Men are less socially connected. Studies show people with fewer and weaker social connections tend to have higher death rates.
Men may take bigger risks. The frontal lobe of the brain—the part that controls judgment and considers the consequences of one’s actions—develops more slowly in boys and young men than in girls and young women. This is seen as a contributing factor in more risky lifestyle behavior, such as smoking or drinking heavily, and in higher death rates from accidents and violence among boys and men than girls and women.
Men don’t go to the doctor. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (and as many a wife can attest), men are far more likely to forego routine health screenings and far less likely to have seen a doctor of any kind during the previous year.
The reality is that males are dealt an unfair hand from birth. The Y chromosome tends to develop mutations more often than X chromosomes and the lack of a second X chromosome in men means X-linked abnormalities among boys are not “masked” by a second, normal version. Developmental disorders, some of which could lead to a shorter lifespan, are also more common among boys.
Though not much can be done about chromosome mutations and developmental disorders, behavior can be changed. Since men tend to skip medical care, getting them to report signs of illness (both physical and emotional) and have regular follow-up for chronic medical problems (such as high blood pressure) could counter some of the tendency for them to die younger.