August 7, 2008

Region’s Ratio of Males to Females Nears 50-50

By Brian Bowling, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Aug. 7--Medical advances are slowly closing the gap between male and female lifespans, and that's one reason Census figures released today show the number of males per 100 females has increased in Western Pennsylvania, demographic and medical experts say.

Dr. Neil Resnick, professor and chief of geriatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said developments such as cholesterol-lowering statins and treatment of high blood pressure have increased male longevity more than female longevity because men tend to die earlier from cardiovascular diseases.

"The gap seems to be declining," he said.

County population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that decline. Nationally, the number of males per 100 females increased from 96 to 97 between July 1, 2000, and July 1, 2007. The ratio for Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties increased from 92 to 93 males per 100 females over the same period.

Chris Briem, a regional economist with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, said the regional shift is explained by an overall drop in the elderly population, where women outnumber men, and an increase in male longevity.

As people get healthier, "the relative difference of men living longer will push that ratio closer to 50-50," he said.

Resnick said the average lifespans for males and females has increased from about 46 years at the start of the 20th century to about 80 years today, but most of the increase reflects the near elimination of diseases such as scarlet fever and whooping cough that used to kill people in their childhoods and early adulthoods.

"You had a fairly real chance of not living to 30 years old back then because of all those conditions," Resnick said.

People who escaped those diseases had about as good a chance as today of reaching their 60s, he said. After 65, the main difference is the toll cardiovascular diseases take on men nearing retirement age. Although heart disease is one of the main killers of women as well as men, it tends to kill women in their 70s and 80s and used to kill men in their 50s and 60s, he said.

"If you give people statins, it makes sense you get more 'bang for your buck' with males," he said.

Blood pressure and cholesterol treatments help ameliorate some of Pennsylvanians' worst habits.

"We tend to be rated among the worst of the states for obesity and smoking," Resnick said. "Both of those are related to heart disease, stroke and cancer."

One reason men are catching up with women in longevity is that more women smoke today than 30 to 50 years ago. That hasn't reversed women's longevity gains, but it has slowed them, he said.

The Census figures show a small shift in Allegheny's racial composition, with a gain of about 7,100 Asians and 5,300 Hispanics.

Briem said he believes both populations have increased, but the accuracy of the Census estimates is questionable because they're based on dividing statewide trends among counties based on their 2000 demographics.

Consequently, the "gains" in Allegheny County might be occurring in the northeast parts of the state that are seeing large gains in both populations moving out from New York City and Washington, D.C., he said.


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