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Harvard Health Blog
Why men often die earlier than women
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
About the Author
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
These factors mentioned are mostly unconnected with statistics. For example, how many men actually die from accidents, hazardous jobs, wars, etc., in contrast to women? The only factor connected to statistics is the factor of heart disease, but even that doesn’t tell me how much I can improve my odds by adopting healthier practices. Such statistics would be quite helpful in telling me how to set priorities in terms of taking preventive measures. For instance, if 95% of the difference in longevity is due to higher incidence of heart disease, then I know I should focus most of my energies on that, and not worry so much about not going to the doctor.
While that info maybe available, and at the same time I wish things were that straight forward myself. As one who worked as a scientist I have rarely found anything regarding human behavior to be simple.
To make statements that are backed by science you must study the change of one variable at a time, however, human behaviors and the motivation behind them, especially ones that effect longevity, are far too complex to study one variable at a time.
While science tries to come as close as possible to ruling out other variables and there are brilliant strategies applied to do just that, human behavior is just too complex to actually limit most studies to one variable and that create problems with saying things with certainty.
The fact is the more complex the topic of study, the more complex saying anything definitive gets and thus the more caveats a true answer requires. This is why you should be sceptical when you hear definitive statements made that are more than general guidelines when it concerns human behavior. Often there is really no way to present data to the general public in a straight forward helpful way with out keeping it simple. This is not because scientists believe the public is less intelligent but the answers are often complex even to the expert.
Unless you address the issues were more than one variable is involved, the caveats, you would over simplifying the truth. Even my attempt to explain the limits of making more than broad general statements or general conclusions in the face of studying a subject that defies the constraint of a single variable is starting to feel too complex.
You often hear a scientist say after a big discovery that “for every question we answered we found many more questions to ask.” These questions have to do with the caveats, which are when multiple variables are at play. When this is the case cause and effect are truly unknown. One variable like men not seeking medical help is compounded by a second variable like the genetic of boys having an XY chromosome and girls having a XX chromosome. Just think how the complexity would grow more and more unwieldy as the number of variables at play increase and you suddenly see why scientists struggle to make more than general conclusions in a short news article. Saying or implying more from a study without explaining the caveats or cases where more things are at play and explaining the limitations of a study is considered both unethical as well as unscientific.
All this to say while I and most other scientists hope studies come out with info presented in ways that are directly applicable to people’s lives and presented in ways that are easier to make decisions like you requested, there are often real scientific and ethical reasons why they do not.
Honestly women care children than men, when women die before man you can experience, children being dirty, house and sometimes even selling some properties
Paul’s fun comment that we die before our wives because we want to is the punch line to a decades old joke, a joke that perhaps survives because it has a kernel of truth. My brother once brought home a hardbound book, much read, underlined and with dog eared pages, entitled “How to Lie With Statistics”. He retired early, very successful man; as I was going into law I paid the book no attention. Drew Young
Men are often defined by society and often define themselves by their occupation and their productivity. As they age, they become less productive and while they may possess power beyond the age of their greatest productivity, eventually, that wanes as well. When a man has less to live for, he probably lives a little less longer. Women, by comparison, are lifelong nuturers and the rewards of that activity continue to be harvested long past fertility.
No one will agree with this but just because you are in the minority, that does not mean that you are wrong.
I live my life by decisions: you make a decision, never revisit the circumstances and never look back. I had cancer twice, treated it as an attention getting syndrome, had a bone marrow transplant twenty one years ago and here I am. I used to have what folks call depression / anxiety. I got sick of the drama and decided that there was nothing wrong with me and within a few months there was not. After a mishap I had a mallet finger: fixed that myself as well.
As for longevity, I am 71 (male) I will live into my nineties, I am planning for that and am making provisions. If I was asked to be specific I would say 93 to 95. You may think it is a pipe dream but my decisions are absorbed into my life. What I decide actually happens. There are other examples as well. Although, if you do not know single mindedness is then you may have a problem,
Thank you very much Peter for this comment. I am 34 on the other hand and also wanna live long 🙂
Your words “I live my life by decisions: you make a decision, never revisit the circumstances and never look back. I used to have what folks call depression / anxiety. I got sick of the drama and decided that there was nothing wrong with me and within a few months there was not. You may think it is a pipe dream but my decisions are absorbed into my life. What I decide actually happens” really made think and I wanted to ask you how you have come to this understanding in life and why you think things do happen in your life when you decide.
I basically want to understand your mindset and how to operate in such a mindset.
Thank you very much in advance.
By the way, I do concur with you that being in the minority doesn’t mean you are wrong, on the other hand, it may actually mean you are right!
I get it weather you believe you can or you believe you can not you will probably be right.
I think it is more than singleminded though. It is also recognizing the mind body connection. But it is still not that simple. Some people have ability that are stronger than others. I am singleminded, persistent and never give up but I have never been able to see my chronic pain as mind over matter and not for lack of effort. Even decades of mindfulness meditation practice has not helped.
However up until I had health issues I solved many problems just like you described. I put all excuses, self doubts or whatever mind trap was in my way and succeeded for the first 30 years of my life. When I started getting Fibromyalgia I had finally found what I was good at as well as a true sense of self worth that went beyond my job. I was the most social I had ever been and I was in the best shape of my life even though I had a scholarship for gymnastics in college. At 30 I worked out vigorously for over 10 hours a week. I mixed gymnastics strength training, running, full court basketball, volleyball, hiking and biking. Yet now I am 48 unable to work, my wife who
I love left me and I unable to take care of my toddler for nowhere as long as I would like and If it was as simple as mind over matter I would not be writing.
My ability to push myself through pain was unquestionable until I got Fibromyalgia. It is poorly understood but I believe science will show there are changes to the brain that change the way my body interprets pain.
Over 18 years I have fought a battle with it and unlike the first thirty years of my life I have never fought so hard and failed so bad at anything in my life.
You have a gift in mind body connection that few are your equal, while I do not discourage people to take heart in your words I would caution you to realize everyone may not be able to achieve the same results as you have.
It was long after I started losing my health that I realized maybe it was possible that I had abilities and achieved things that I thought anyone could do if they just put their mind to it. I never thought myself as gifted but achieved things others did not because I believe I could.
Even when the doctors told me there was little that could be done I did not believe them and a part of me still does not want to except that my quality of life has become quite low and still I believe a day will come that I will be better. Yet, my life has not played out like I envisioned it would despite my single-mindedness.
I think women may begin life feeling more vulnerable and therefore inform themselves and pay more attention to health and fitness issues. I live with a man who is 73, a couple of years older than me. I have to remind him to swim, go to yoga, swim, walk, to engage in exercise that isn’t task-related, like fixing things. Although I tend to cook healthy low fat food, and not too much meat, whenever we go to a restaurant he orders what he wants. I have to say, “Sausage? NO!” I am constantly pointing this out to him, you could say “nagging,” and I have made some significant headway. But I have to keep reminding him. Another friend of mine says her husband, who has gained a lot of weight, is exactly the same.
In agreement with another person commenting; menstruation in under appreciated in this discussion. Women of childbearing age are naturally dumping pro-oxidant iron monthly. Virtually all (major) disease comes down to inflammation oxidation at the cellular level.
“Those whom HE loves Die young” is a saying by philosophers. Almighty God hates women and so they die latter than men. Statistics is dumb and useless and fabricated by people with invested interests since long long time.
What a stupid comment coming from a doctor.. I agree with Dr Robert Schmerling statistics don’t lie.
Wow! If you are a medical doctor I sure hope that you do not treat women in your practice. And women, if your doctor shares this name, I would take steps to vet him to insure that this is not his personal and professional belief as your health may be at risk.
I must say you are wrong brother. God loves women and men as well. I’m a woman and I’m proud to be a woman. God loves me!
Perhaps men committing suicide more often than women is due, in an instrumental sense, to the other factors mentioned – they take higher risks, and they have more dangerous jobs, such as fitefighting. A possible implication is that.men have more control over the technologies of violence, that they’re more competent with self-harming instruments and that they might be more competent to judge a dose or force. Women conventionally are more practised at supporting life than destroying it.
The greater love most children show their mothers more than the fathers could psychologically promote the life of mothers as compared to the male counterpart.
It is also observed that women with more children live longer (if they do not meet with the labour-related death) than others with less children.
I disagree that men die more from homicide than girls or women. Studies I’ve read indicate more women die from violent crimes.
I’ve never seen that supported by any study of note. Where did you see that?
Simple logic; Women have a simple but amazing system that helps them get rid of toxins naturally every month for close to 35 years of their life. Less intoxicated system = longer life. Now some scientist should check into that!
For most of human history, women died first … in childbirth. Reproductive freedom – less than 100 years old, has really changed women’s lifespans, quality of life, financial self-reliance and aspirations.
Men don’t work at keeping fit as much as women do. Notice that almost all of the “health and fitness” publications show women—rarely men– on the covers?
You may be mistaken in several ways
1) People on magazine covers reflect the target buyer of the magazine. There might or might not be a correlation between the number of people buying magazines and the number of people actually keeping fit
2) Notice that the people on the magazines don’t reflect the older population and generally underrepresent minorities and the disabled as well
3) Only a tiny percentage of men or women buy fitness magazines. If the majority of the population doesn’t have a regular fitness routine, then the fitness of a small minority won’t make a good proxy for analyzing fitness
a corrrection: …….#that the female,s heart tend to become strong along the years!!!! this i a scientifc proved fact………by the medical comunity…… therefore woman live long than man………………
one key factor that most ordinary do not know,,…….. but doctores do know..!!!……… is the females,s heatr tends to grow stronger the older they get!!!!….. this i a scientific fact proved!!!!
I think you are overlooking one quite obvious cause . . . Wives . . . ! (O: }
Oh! Frank You made my day!
The survival of the species is dependent on females !
Would someone who has access to the relevant statistics check this: I think I read that while for many years the life expectancy for women at a given age is longer than that for men, at some advanced age, perhaps somewhere in the eighties, it switches and life expectancy for men get a bit higher than that for women.
It may be that because men die off so much more than do women, at all ages, that by the time the elders reach that ripe old age of ninety-ish, the fewer men still around are an especially hardy bunch?
At all stages of life, more women attend churches than men. This spiritual activities may bring happier and longer lives.
That sounds like something someone would say if the weren’t an Agnostic or Atheist. Plenty of us live long healthy lives without the need for religious dogma. In fact, you might want to read Christopher Hitchen’s NY Times best seller; “GOD IS NOT GREAT – Religion Poisons Everything”
I am now 80; my dad died from untreated hypertension at 49. Recognizing I have the same HP problem, I have kept BP below 140/90 through meds, diet, exercise, and driving a high school bus for the past 14 years (keeps your mind challenged). Also I have avoided the many risky lifestyle activities following my strong relationship with Jesus Christ which spills over into my relationship helping others – both teens and adults. It all fits together in a win-win combination.
Most men die before their wives because they want to
Paul, if you read any of the other comments based upon knowledge, science, and common sense, you have got to feel stupid for the stupid remark you made. If you don’t feel it – you are it.
Men do not die of heart disease more than women. From the CDC’s website, “Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States.” http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_women_heart.htm
I believe that the stress of providing for a family kills men at a younger age. Although most married woman are now part of the workforce, in most cases, they still don’t earn the largest portion of the families’ economic sustenance. Their work is often a “second” income which can end upon starting a family, with fewer dire consequences than if the husband should choose to quit working. Oftentimes it is the man that feels he must hold down two jobs when expenses increase.
according to this logic, more single mothers die at younger ages than married ones! Is this true? I don’t know any statistics in this area.
I am a single mom. I had to work some times even 3 jobs. I agree with Robyn’s comments. I have 6 sisters and all look fab and feel great, because they have always had a husband or a provider thought they all have professions and had /have worked. The men in their lives have been their real support. And I agree with Paul (comment above “Most men die before their wives because they want to”)
If men want to die , they DO, as if they had ‘accomplished’ what they came to life for.
Until 1860 or so, one “hazardous occupation” was childbearing. Women died in horrific numbers. Sanitation in hospitals controlled that, and pregnancies/woman dropped too, so women’s longevity improved. Then smoking was invented, and more men than women smoked, so men’s longevity rose less. All these statistics depend on these cultural changes.
Statistical techniques matter too. For instance, millions of female fetuses are selectively aborted every year, but these deaths are not counted in longevity statistics.
conclusion: the stats will continue to evolve in unpredictable ways.
I agree with you about “stats” and how they can be misused or conversely, used to prove seemingly valid points when all contributing factors have not been considered. The best point this article may have proved was the need to follow healthy routines which include appropriate medical care, and to know yourself plus your family history and use it as a combined tool to make informed choices with your personal longevity as a goal. To dwell on it would be a mistake though.
Thank you for a thought-provoking piece.
The population over 85 yrs old, included males drafted into service during WW2 and Vietnam which likely had significant longterm effects (Agent Orange, PTSD, etc.)
It will be interesting to see the result for people born in 1950 rather than 1930. Especially with women now far more stressed by being in the workforce.
Did you consider the impact of passive aggressive “nag” factor and women’s seemingly better longterm memory?
On a serious note there is domestic abuse directed at women which should be included as a factor. When you mention that larger mammals have a disdvantage, I am not clear that is true. Humans outlive rabbits, dogs, etc.
also factors are height (over 6 feet) and playing sports such as basketball, boxing and football.
The general drift of marketing targets the most profitable area. If women are are the largest target, they are the target. Marketing towards women, men don’t find very interesting. Men die of boredom.
This has been the success of taking the market economy and turning it into the market society. Though it only continues the notion since men went out to hunt or to war, to relieve boredom, that men are the expendable component . That’s why mens sports, mens hunting and men’s wars are publicised so much. To notify prospective mates of the the best adapted. WE developed the market then the market developed us.
Not long ago, cavemen fall off the cliff, eaten by animals while trying to gather food for the cavewomen.
Sperm donors kill each other while fighting over the egg carrier.
Has any study been conducted on homosexual population?
Until the inception of ObamaCare, women were charged far more for health insurance than men, even with the exclusion of maternity coverage. the market penalized women for taking charge of their health care , punishing them for longevity. The profits over people health care mentality in the United states would rather see us all dead than living long, happy, lives. Maybe the solution lies in substituting good for greed.
It has nothing to do with politics. As a supervisor, male employees rarely used their sick days. My female employees used their medical benefits considerably more. Females routinely missed work for all manner of medical issues. Insurance costs more for women because women use the healthcare system much more than men.
Joe – it is only recently that the government has focused on women’s healthcare. Especially in the area of heart disease, mostly all of the studies focused on men. To this day, many women believe that their greatest longevity problem is dying from breast cancer. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death among older women. Maybe there are more studies focusing on women now because we need to catch up.
I think the reasons cited by this study have a lot of validity as to why men die younger than women. The good news is that life expectancy has increased for both men and women
115 male fetuses are conceived for every 100 female fetuses but there are only 104 male babies born for every 100 female babies. Male humans die at a higher rate at every age even before any of the factors mentioned in this article obtain.
Since evolution of humans, the male population had been fighting each other for various type of wealth like women, wine, wealth, power, command and getting killed. Men had been fighting for possessing women and protecting them. And the result was one will kill many men to keep many women in captivity. Some day, when that man becomes weaker, the other will kill him and become owner of the women possession. Thus the women were surviving longer and the men less. Due this phenomenon, the genetics of men became such to live less than women. And the women genetics developed to live longer.
Research has indicated that the main contributing factor is higher cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality in men. In Europe male mortality is on decline and the gender gap in life expectancy is becoming smaller. Apparently trends in Iceland and in other Scandinavian countries indicate that by the year 2050 men will live as long as women.
Another reason I believe is important to address is societal’s view (perhaps subconscious view) that men are deemed disposable. Why is it that government initiatives on health always center on women? In the US we have several commissions on women (and girls) health but none for men. There are government sponsored and funded (government) websites for women and girls – such as womenshealth.gov and even girlshealth.gov but if you try to access menshealth.gov you’ll get stuck with a 404 Error “page not found”. But why would a government that caters to the notion that males and females are equal and should be equal NOT even have a corresponding health site for boys (boyshealth.gov)? That’s just beyond insane and outright discrimination. So yea, men here do die earlier and a lot of it is by design.
Women’s studies have just started. Previous studies were only for men because of fears of harming the unborn. If you are looking for information consider exploring comparative studies ( comparing men to women).
You might need to search more carefully:
These are just a few of the many excellent government health sites for men.
Historically, most health studies focused either on male only cohorts or on mixed cisgender cohorts. It may still be the case that many male focused studies are described as “studies” without specifying that they are male focused because of accidental bias in language choice.
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