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Why do women live longer than men

By David Robson 2 October 2015 As soon as I was born, I was already destined to die earlier than half the babies in my maternity ward — a curse that I can do little to avoid. Simply due to the fact that I am male, I can be expected to die around three years earlier than a woman born on the same day. What is it about being a man that means I am likely to die younger than the women around me?

Why do women live longer than men?

And is it possible for me to break the curse of my gender? Although this puzzling divide has been known for decades, it is only recently that we have started coming close to some answers. One early idea was that men work themselves into an early grave. Whether working in a mine or ploughing the land, they put extra stress on their bodies and amassed injuries that caught up with them later in life.

Yet if that were the case, you might expect the gap to be closing, as both men and women converge on the same, sedentary jobs.

  1. There are many potential mechanisms — starting with the bundles of DNA known as chromosomes within each cell. View image of Credit.
  2. Testosterone might make our bodies stronger in the short-term, but the same changes also leave us open to heart disease, infections, and cancer later in life.
  3. Simply due to the fact that I am male, I can be expected to die around three years earlier than a woman born on the same day.
  4. Even the kings — who were the most pampered people in the palace — did not come close.

View image of Women live longer, and the gap isn't closing either Credit: Getty Images The survival advantage of women is seen in every country, in every year, for which reliable records exist In fact, the difference in lifespan has remained stable even throughout monumental shifts in society.

Consider Sweden, which offers the most reliable historic records. In 1800, life expectancy at birth was 33 years for women and 31 years for men; today it is 83. As one recent article put it: There may be no more robust pattern in human biology.

Factors such as smoking, drinking, and overeating may partly explain why size of the gender gap varies so widely between countries. Russian men are likely to die 13 years earlier than Russian women, for instance, partly because they drink and smoke more heavily.

  • Whether working in a mine or ploughing the land, they put extra stress on their bodies and amassed injuries that caught up with them later in life;
  • Even the kings — who were the most pampered people in the palace — did not come close.

But the fact is that female chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons also consistently outlive the males of the group, and you do not see apes — male or female — with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and beer glasses in their hands. Instead, it would seem like the answer lies in our evolution. There are many potential mechanisms — starting with the bundles of DNA known as chromosomes within each cell.

Chromosomes come in pairs, and whereas women have two X chromosomes, men have an X and a Y chromosome.

Having two X chromosomes, women keep double copies of every gene, meaning they have a spare if one is faulty. The result is that more cells may begin to malfunction with time, putting men at greater risk of disease.

  • During mating, women would be more likely to go for alpha males, pumped up on testosterone;
  • There are many potential mechanisms — starting with the bundles of DNA known as chromosomes within each cell;
  • The result is delayed risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

The result is delayed risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. Or it could also be a simple matter of size. Taller people have more cells in their bodies, meaning they are more likely to develop harmful mutations ; bigger bodies also burn more energy, which could add to wear and tear within the tissues themselves.

Since men tend to be taller than women, they should therefore face more long-term damage. Eunuchs were 130 times more likely to reach 100, compared to other men. Even the pampered kings did not come close But perhaps the true reason lies in the testosterone that drives most other male characteristics, from deeper voices and hairier chests to balding crowns.

Evidence comes from an unexpected place: Korean scientist Han-Nam Park recently analysed the detailed records of court life from the 19th Century, including information about 81 eunuchs whose testicles had been removed before puberty. His analyses revealed that the eunuchs lived for around 70 years — compared to an average of just 50 years among the other men in the court.

Overall, they were 130 times more likely to celebrate their hundredth birthday than the average man living in Korea at the time.

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Even the kings — who were the most pampered people in the palace — did not come close. Although not all studies of other types of eunuch have shown such pronounced differences, overall it seems that people and animals without testicles do live longer.

View image of Credit: Getty Images The exact reasons are elusive, but David Gems at University College London speculates that the damage may be done by the end of puberty. For speculative evidence, he points to the sad cases of mental health patients, institutionalised in the USA in the early 20th Century. Like the Korean eunuchs, they too lived for longer than the average inmate — but only if they had been sterilised before the age of 15.

Testosterone might make our bodies stronger in the short-term, but the same changes also leave us open to heart disease, infections, and cancer later in life. View image of Ageing differences may be down to testosterone Credit: Once the children are born, the men are more disposable Kirkwood and Gem both think of this as a kind of evolutionary pay-off that gave both men and women the best chances of passing on their genes.

  • There are many potential mechanisms — starting with the bundles of DNA known as chromosomes within each cell;
  • Since men tend to be taller than women, they should therefore face more long-term damage.

During mating, women would be more likely to go for alpha males, pumped up on testosterone. But once the children are born, the men are more disposable, says Kirkwood. As it is, the scientists admit that we need to keep on looking for a definitive answer. But the hope is that eventually, the knowledge may provide some hints to help us all live a little longer.