Harvard Men's Health Watch

Survival of the fittest: Men at 100 are healthier than women

Fewer men than women live to 100, but the men who do tend to be healthier, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers sorted through primary care health records of over 11,000 men and women in the United Kingdom who reached age 100 between 1990 and 2013. They hoped this would provide a more representative look at the health of the oldest people in the population than earlier studies have offered.

As expected, more women than men became centenarians during this period: about 9,000 versus 2,100. However, under the current concept of "successful aging," quality of life is more highly valued than simply the number of life years racked up. So the researchers took a close look at the records for evidence of so-called geriatric syndromes—health problems that are common in older people. These include falls, hip and spine fractures, dementia, and hearing or vision loss.

About a third of the female centenarians were free of geriatric syndromes, whereas nearly half of the men were. One in three men was free of any diagnosed disease, compared with only one in five of the women. At least in this group of people, men may be less likely to live to 100, but a large fraction of those who do have hope of a pretty good quality of life.