Why do women live longer than men?

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Researchers have long known that women have a longer life expectancy than men, and now, a new study led by experts from the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology has uncovered one of the main reasons for this apparent discrepancy.

Writing in a recent edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USC Professor of Gerontology Dr. Eileen Crimmins reported that after looking at the mortality rates of adults over the age of 40, female death rates decreased about 70 percent faster than those of males in people born after 1880.

Even when controlling for smoking-related ailments, the vast majority of the excess deaths in adult men over 40 appeared to be due to cardiovascular disease, based on an analysis of global data on mortality rates over the same time period. The discovery raises questions over whether or not men and women face different heart disease risks due to inherent biological factors.

An increased risk in men

Furthermore, the study found that significant differences in life expectancies between men and women first emerged as early as the start of the 20th century. While death rates fell for both men and women due to improved diets and disease prevention, females started reaping the benefits at a much faster rate than males, the university said in a statement.

The divergence in morality between the genders was concentrated primarily in the 50- to 70-year-old age range, but faded out drastically after age 80. In adults at least 40 years of age, female death rates decreased 70 percent faster than male death rates after 1890, with smoking accounting for less than one-third of that mortality difference.

Study author Dr. Caleb Finch, a professor of neurobiology at USC, told redOrbit via email that his team’s findings support previous studies that found cardiovascular disease to be “the main cause of male mortality in middle age,” and added that there were three main reasons behind the divergence in mortality between males and females in this age group.

“Men smoke more, which is a major risk, but smoking accounts for only 30 percent of excess male risk,” Dr. Finch added. “Higher animal fat consumption is also a factor, with differences between countries that correspond to mortality patterns. Lastly, at the cell level, male cells are more vulnerable to stress than female cells.”


Follow redOrbit on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.