Simply Being A Man Is Bad For Your Health
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MEN DIE YOUNG - EVEN IF OLD
By Betsy Mason
July 25, 2002
Simply being a man is bad for your health, even after the excesses of youth.
Young men are often risk takers, and their predilection for thrills and
spills means that they are more likely to die than young women. But if you
assume things even out in later life, think again.
A new study across 20 countries reveals for the first time just how much
bigger the risk of premature death is for men than women, whatever their
In the US in 1998, for example, men up to the age of 50 were on average
twice as likely as women to keel over, and the risk remained greater even
for those men who had made it to their eighties and beyond. Less
surprisingly, the discrepancy in death rates between men and women was most
extreme between the ages of 20 and 24, when three times as many men die as
"Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death,"
says Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Heart disease to homicide
Nesse says that the finding has important implications for public health.
"If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would
do more good than curing cancer," he says.
Nesse's colleague Daniel Kruger estimates that over 375,000 lives would be
saved in a single year in the US if men's risk of dying was as low as
The US data is backed by death rates in countries including Ireland,
Australia, Russia, Singapore and El Salvador. Nesse and Kruger found that
everywhere they looked, it is more perilous to be male. In Colombia for
example, men in their early twenties are five times as likely to die as
women of the same age. Even more surprisingly, the pattern holds for every
major cause of death, from car crashes to heart disease to homicide.
For external causes of death, such as accidents, the difference between the
sexes is greatest for young adults. But the second largest disparity between
men and women in the US occurs when they reach their sixties. At that point
in their life, men are 1.68 times as likely to die as women, mainly due to
The gender gap has widened dramatically in recent years, but it has been on
the rise since the 1940s, at least in the US, France, Japan and Sweden,
where historical figures are available. The researchers suggest a number of
factors that could be to blame for the trend.
Population growth and globetrotting have led to a rise in infectious
diseases. And improvements in public health and medicine may have benefited
women more than men: for instance, far fewer women now die at a relatively
young age during childbirth. Technological advances may have played a part,
too, by supplying men with more powerful guns and ever faster cars.
Nesse and Kruger say that sexual selection could also partly explain some of
the differences. Men generally invest less in their children than women do,
and as a result may compete more vigorously with each other for potential
This rivalry could be what drives them to take greater risks, with the
result that men have evolved greater reproductive success at the expense of
longevity. The same may be true for chimpanzees and even fruit flies, says
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