Scientists shed light on why women live longer than men

Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko
Scientists have finally answered the million-dollar question: why men on average don’t live as long as women. According to a new study, men appear more vulnerable to heart disease than the inaptly-named 'weaker sex'. As a result, they succumb earlier.

The far-reaching study led by University of Southern California (USC) Davis School of Gerontology researchers examined the lifespans of people born between 1800 and 1935 in 13 developed nations. Studying mortality rates in adults aged over 40, the team found that in individuals born after 1880, female death rates decreased 70 percent faster than those of males. Even when the researchers analyzed death rates caused by smoking-related illnesses, cardiovascular disease still appeared to be the key cause of the “vast majority of excess deaths” in adult men over 40 for the same time period.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. Contrary to popular belief, however, smoking accounted for only 30 percent of the difference in mortality between men and women after 1890, the USC study said.

Reuters/Susana Vera

According to the researchers, the unequal impact of heart-related deaths on men cut off in their prime (especially during middle and early older age) raises the question whether men and women have, in fact, been facing different inherent heart disease risks at different points in their lives.

“Further study could include analysis of diet and exercise activity differences between countries, deeper examination of genetics and biological vulnerability between sexes at the cell level, and the relationship of these findings to brain health at later ages,” William F. Kieschnick, a professor in the Neurobiology of Aging, said.

According to researchers, significant differences in life expectancies between the sexes first emerged at the turn of the 20th Century. It appeared death rates plunged after infectious disease prevention and better diets were taken up by those born during the 1800s and early 1900s. The study found that women began “reaping the longevity benefits” at a much faster rate, researchers said.

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“We were surprised at how the divergence in mortality between men and women, which originated as early as 1870, was concentrated in the 50 to 70 age range and faded out sharply after age 80,” USC University Professor and AARP Professor of Gerontology Eileen Crimmins said in a press release. The study entitled “Twentieth century surge of excess adult male mortality,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is said to be the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities, both men and women. More than half of the deaths from heart disease in 2009 were in men, however.

Each year, cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes over 4 million deaths in Europe (that's 47 percent of all deaths) and 1.9 million deaths in the European Union, according to the European Society of Cardiology. CVD is the main cause of death in women in all European countries and the main cause of death in men in all but six countries. Overall CVD is estimated to cost the EU economy almost €196 billion a year, the European Society of Cardiology reported.