Longevity: Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?

Finding the fountain of youth may be a fantasy, but one fact is certain: women live longer lives than men. According to Tom Perls, the founder of the New England Centenarian Study, over 85% of people over 100 years old are women. A female born in 2012 can be expected to live an average of 81 years, while her male counterpart will live to 76, on average, according to the CDC.

Of course there are many contributing factors to living to a ripe old age, not the least of which is genetics. For example, if there is a history of cancer throughout your family tree, you may have a predisposition to the disease. This does not mean you will get cancer, but it is a factor in your predicted life expectancy.

As to the reasons women live longer than men, some are proven by science, others are theories with more of a gray area. One scientific fact is that women tend to be at risk of heart disease, the leading killer of seniors between 70 and 80 years old, a good decade later than men. But why is that?

One theory is that is has to with women's lack of iron, especially in their younger years. Iron helps the body produce free radicals which can lead to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. Men have a stronger leaning toward eating red meat and other iron rich foods, while women naturally have less iron because of their menstruation cycle.

Psychological Differences

Another school of thought is that women handle stress better than men. When men are dealing with problems and other outside stresses, they tend to retreat and keep the issues to themselves. Conversely, women reach out to spouses, partners, girlfriends, and family to talk out problems and challenges. This leads to lower blood pressure, which keeps heart disease at bay.

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Women also have stronger social networks, leading to an overall happier life. When faced with depression or other issues affecting health, be it mental or physical, having a strong social network to call on for support can make a huge difference in life, impacting a person's peace of mind. Happy people live longer than miserable people, not the least of which can be attributed to suicide. Men are more likely to succeed when attempting suicide than women, which is more prevalent as we age, for fear of burdening our loved ones.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, women are 24% more likely to visit the doctor than men, and 22% less likely to skip the cholesterol test during a physical. Because of this, women tend to care for themselves in conjunction with their doctor more than men, which is a strong preventative measure to keeping illness away.

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Simple Biology

Science may have the ultimate explanation: simple biology. Well, perhaps not quite simple, but certainly easy enough to understand. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have the X and Y chromosomes, which is the very definition of male and female at the DNA level. Because women have two X chromosomes, they have duplicate genes throughout their DNA makeup. If cells are damaged by illness, there is a backup to replace it in the DNA of the other cells.

Men don't have the automated backup for their genetic code. If they have a disease that damages cells, there isn't one to replace it. As more cells die or malfunction as we age, men are at greater risk than women. Who said women were the weaker sex?

Biologically speaking, this could simply be evolution at its finest, with women being the child bearers of the world. In a manner of speaking, men are more disposable than women, because women are the ones who keep life regenerating.

No matter what the reason, the evidence that women live longer than men is irrefutable. Biology, environment, genetics, and many other factors contribute to the quantity of years we live and the quality of those years. One thing is certain: Eating healthfully and staying active as we age are the keys to a long, joyful life.

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