For as far back as you can think everyone has just known that women are expected to live longer than men. It is always assumed that husbands will pass away before their wives, and that sisters will live longer than their brothers. But why? What is it that makes the lifespan of a woman longer than that of a man? There are all kinds of theories and speculation, but it mainly comes down to a little bit science and a little bit lifestyle.
Men and women are not created equal (biologically, anyways) and there are a few things that seem to give women an advantage over men. It’s also pretty obvious that men and women have very different ideas of fun. To have a good time, men are generally the ones who choose to throw themselves off of cliffs while women go shopping; and your chances of death by shopping cart are slim to none.
The biological reason why women seem to live longer than men begins in the womb, the second two X chromosomes combine to create a female. When cells undergo aging and damage, they choose an X chromosome. Remember that we all have the exact same genes and what makes us different are the different variations of those genes. So if one variation has a good gene and one has a bad, the female with two X chromosomes has a better chance of the good taking over. Men, on the other hand only have one X chromosome (remember men have an X and a Y), so if their X chromosome is taken over, there is no hope of another variation to protect them. It all gets very scientific and complicated, but suffice to say that two X chromosomes offer more of an advantage than one.
Women also experience a delay in the onset of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks. For a number of possible reasons, women don’t develop any cardiovascular problems at all until their 70’s and even 80’s, but men are developing them as early as in their 50’s. Of course, doctors originally jumped to the conclusion that it was likely due to estrogen, but it has since been found that that is not the case.
The fact that menopause causes women to be somewhat iron-deficient for a good part of their lives could have something to do with it because of what iron actually does in the body. Iron has a major role in how our cells react and create free radicals. These attach to our DNA and can age the cell. Men are also the biggest eaters of red meat which only adds even more iron to the diet, speeding up the creation of damaging free radicals.
Biology also has a lot to do with the somewhat idiotic decisions that men tend to make in their teens and early 20’s. A storm of testosterone occurs, and the heightened hormone level leads to reckless behavior. Men then do things that put their lives at even greater risk, but women don’t experience this hormonal storm that seems to impair judgment; but more about that later.
Bad Habits and Denial
It was determined that men’s bad habits are also partially responsible for the reason their life span tends to be shorter. When it comes to potentially life-threatening habits, men were found to be engaging in them more than women. While the gender gap is slowly beginning to decrease, more men smoke than women do. Everyone is well aware of the health risks associated with smoking, and since they are already at a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, the risks are even greater.
Men are also found to be bigger drinkers than women. While the majority of women are social drinkers and will be found sipping drinks, men are generally the ones who let it get out of hand. Men are often about outdoing each other (especially during the testosterone storm mentioned earlier), so they will not be the first to quit drinking. Men also use alcohol as a way of not having to deal with their feelings; becoming dependent on alcohol means that men are constantly attacking their body from the inside out.
Not being able to deal with their feelings is another huge factor in why women live longer. Men will deny problems, refuse to talk, and instead bury them with alcohol or other harmful methods. Since men are not generally known to be talkers, they keep all of their stress inside and it eats at them just as much as the alcohol does. Women vent their stress and problems to each other. While this doesn’t solve anything, it does help to lighten the load. Since men aren’t typically able to talk, they only keep adding to their stress. The major problem with this is that stress is a huge factor in cardiovascular disease.
Sadly, the dumb things that men sometimes do for fun are a large part of the reason that they don’t live as long as women. While women go out to get a mani/pedi, men are messing with car engines that they often know nothing about. While women bake a turkey in the oven, men come up with clever ways to deep-fry it. Women stand back and watch the fireworks while men decide to create their own.
Need we go on? Men are just naturally more adventurous than women and seem to set few limits for themselves. No matter how dangerous something may seem, men are always sure that they will beat the odds and have a great story to tell at next week’s game.
So whether you choose to blame it on genetics, habits, or decisions, the fact remains that women are living longer than men. 85% of the population that is over 100 years old are women; it’s likely not just a coincidence. The truth is, there probably isn’t just one concrete reason why; it’s probably a mix of a little bit of everything.