Why Women Live Longer Than Men

Dr Vernon Coleman

Women in developed countries can, on average, currently expect to live up to ten years longer than men.

That’s a fact.

The oldest person in recorded history was a woman, Mme Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 in 1997.

That’s a fact.

Nine times as many women as men live to celebrate their 100th birthday.

That’s a fact.

Men aged 55 to 64 are twice as likely as women of the same age to die from accidents or heart disease and four times as likely to commit suicide.

That’s a fact.

It is widely believed that women live longer than men because of some genetic superiority. Indeed, most people believe that women have always lived longer than men.

Those are myths.

Up until the early part of the 20th century, life expectancy for men was pretty much the same as life expectancy for women.

The fact is that the difference only developed during the 20th century.

And I believe that the difference can be easily explained. The fact that women now live longer than men has nothing whatsoever to do with genetics or hormones. It is all down to lifestyle.

Here are the reasons why men now tend to die sooner than women.

1. For most of the 20th century the average man pushed himself much harder than the average woman did. There were exceptions among both sexes, of course, but on the whole, men felt that they had to drive themselves hard in order to ‘succeed’. (The definition of ‘success’ has varied from community to community.) The resultant high stress levels have helped produce a high incidence of heart disease and have damaged the immune systems of millions of men – thereby making vast numbers of men exceptionally vulnerable to many varieties of cancer.

2. Smoking has, for decades, been very much a ‘male’ habit. For most of the 20th century the number of male smokers far exceeded the number of female smokers. It was the popularity of smoking among men which partly explained the higher incidence of heart disease and some common cancers among men.

3. Throughout the 20th century men were more likely than women to eat too much and more likely to eat the wrong (often high fat content) foods. Women tended to be more conscious of the advantages of healthy eating than have men. In addition, women have traditionally been much more conscious of their size than have men, and slimming clubs have always been more popular with women than with men.

4. For the first three quarters of the 20th century, most of the financial worries within a marriage were shouldered by the man. Many women never saw their husband’s pay packet or bank details. A remarkable number of women never even knew how much their husbands earned. Worrying about money is one of the commonest stresses – and is particularly likely to result in ill health.

5. Generally speaking, men have been woefully unwilling to be on the lookout for – and aware – of abnormalities affecting their bodies. For decades women have routinely examined their own bodies – looking for abnormalities or early signs of developing disease. Men, on the other hand, have traditionally been unwilling to do this. Vast amounts of money have been spent teaching women how to examine their own breasts (in order to spot breast cancer). Virtually nothing has been spent teaching men how to examine their testicles (in order to spot cancer of the testes).

Women have been much more enthusiastic about learning the rudiments of self help. Far more women than men are knowledgeable about alternative medicine. In addition, women have learnt to be more willing to seek help from a health care professional when they have found symptoms or signs which might indicate an underlying health problem. Why are women so much more comfortable with seeking medical advice than men? I suspect the explanation is simple. Women who get pregnant are accustomed to seeking medical help during their pregnant years. And it is usually the mother (rather than the father) who takes sick children along to the doctor’s surgery.

6. Doctors are a major cause of sickness in our modern society but there are times when their help can be lifesaving for the sooner an individual seeks medical advice the greater likelihood that the doctor can deal with the problem satisfactorily. To all this must be added the fact that doctors have, for years, concentrated medical resources on health problems exclusively affecting women (such as cervical cancer and breast cancer) and virtually ignored health problems (such as prostate cancer) exclusively affecting men.

7. Alcohol was, for most the 20th century, a ‘man thing’. Alcoholism – and alcohol induced damage – used to be much commoner among men than women. The female body is more susceptible to alcohol but excessive drinking has traditionally been something much more likely to affect men than women.

8. Workaholism was almost exclusively a male problem for the greater part of the 20th century. Driven by ambition, competitiveness and a need to succeed, millions of men pushed themselves to the limit and beyond. Many men have died – or become chronic invalids – because of their workaholism.

9. Throughout the 20th century men have, generally speaking, been unwilling to talk to anyone about their problems. A man may joke with his best friend, or talk to him about his boss, his favourite football team or his car, but he is unlikely to open his heart, or to be prepared to share his innermost feelings. The average woman, on the other hand, does not have so much difficulty in opening up her heart and sharing her fears, hopes and aspirations with her best friend. Sharing personal fears is a good way of reducing the damage fears can do. The average man bottles up his fears and his worries – allowing those fears and worries to do a great deal of damage. By sharing her fears, the average woman dramatically reduces the damage that is done.

10. When men take exercise it tends to be physically combative and potentially damaging. Football, for example, is likely to result in all sorts of physical injuries. The exercise men take also tends to be competitive in nature. So, for example, when men play golf or squash they are often determined to win. The result of all this is that when men take exercise it is likely to prove physically and mentally damaging. Feminine types of activity, on the other hand, tend to be gentler and less competitive. Women attend keep fit classes or aerobic classes or go dancing. They benefit from their exercise programmes.

Note: Tomorrow I will explain why things are changing and why women won’t live longer than men in the future.

This essay was taken from `How to Live Longer’ by Vernon Coleman – which is available via the bookshops on www.vernoncoleman.com

Copyright Vernon Coleman October 2023