Observe the typical retirement home or circle of elderly friends, and you will notice a noticeable disparity in the ratio of men to women. Among those aged 85 and above, men are a rarity.
It is commonly believed that men tend to have a shorter lifespan than women, and the statistics confirm this notion. For instance, in Germany in 2022, the average life expectancy for men was slightly above 78 years, whereas women had a life expectancy of 82.8 years.
According to a recent study conducted by US researchers, the disparity in life expectancy between women and men has reached its highest point since 1996. In 2021, the average life expectancy for women in the US was approximately 79 years, whereas for men it was slightly over 73 years. The study attributes this significant gap of 5.8 years to various external factors, with the COVID-19 pandemic being a prominent contributor.
In the November 2023 edition of the JAMA Journal of Internal Medicine, a research paper highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on men in the United States, leading to a decline in their average life expectancy. Additionally, the authors identified “deaths of despair” as another significant factor contributing to the lower life expectancy among men. These deaths encompass tragic outcomes such as suicide, addiction problems, and violent crime.
According to Brandon Yan, the lead author of the study, the rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have increased for both genders, but it is evident that men are experiencing a greater share of these fatalities.
However, Robert H. Shmerling, a senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing, suggests that there are other factors contributing to the difference in life expectancy between men and women. Shmerling notes that men tend to skip routine health checkups more often than women and are overrepresented in hazardous occupations like firefighting and military combat.
Shmerling also highlights the disparity in suicide rates between men and women. This could be attributed to the persisting stigma surrounding mental health care, particularly for men, in various cultures. Additionally, heart disease plays a significant role in this matter. In the United States, men are 50% more prone to succumb to heart disease compared to women. However, in Europe, men have shown better outcomes. The reduction of cardiovascular disease among men outside of the US contributes to the narrowing gap in life expectancy between genders.
The life expectancy disparity between genders has been investigated by a group of researchers from Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research. Their study focused on Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovakia, and Switzerland. The findings, which were published in the European Journal of Public Health in July 2023, indicate that the gap in life expectancy has narrowed. This positive trend can be attributed to a decrease in male mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases and neoplasms.
From 1996 to 2019, the study observed a decrease in the mortality gap across all seven countries. The main factor behind this decline, particularly in most countries, was the reduction in cases of heart disease among men. However, in France, a significant contribution to the narrowing mortality sex gap was made by the decrease in cancer cases among men. Unfortunately, the situation is not entirely positive. In the Czech Republic, the gap in life expectancy between men and women has decreased due to a decrease in male deaths caused by lung cancer, while the death rates among women from lung cancer are on the rise.
Male mammals have a shorter lifespan due to their courtship and mating behavior, as revealed by a study conducted by an international team of researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2020. This phenomenon is not unique to humans, as other animals also exhibit a significant difference in life expectancy between males and females.
The scientists examined 101 species and found that females had a median lifespan that was 18.6% longer than males on average. However, in humans, this difference is only 7.8%. Interestingly, bighorn sheep were one species where this difference was particularly noticeable. The researchers also discovered that disparities in life expectancy only arise during difficult times for the sheep. When living conditions are favorable and food is abundant, males do not experience a significant decrease in lifespan compared to females.
Female bighorn sheep exhibit better coping mechanisms when faced with adversity, as they have more energy to devote to feeding. Conversely, male bighorn sheep are believed to expend a significant amount of energy on sexual competition and muscle building, which may ultimately decrease their lifespan. This phenomenon is observed across various species, including humans.