Males, especially those married with a degree, can outlive women, research claims

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Males can be over 50 percent more likely to outlast females – especially those married with a degree. It contradicts ‘received wisdom’ of a natural longevity gap between the genders, say Danish scientists.

The findings are based on mortality rates among 199 populations from every continent over a period of 200 years.

Corresponding author Dr Marie-Pier Bergeron-Boucher, of Syddansk University, Odense, said: “Although male life expectancy is generally lower than female life expectancy, and male death rates are usually higher at all ages, males have a substantial chance of outliving females.

“These findings challenge the general impression that ‘men do not live as long as women’ and reveal a more nuanced inequality in lifespans between females and males.”

Sex differences in survival are often identified by comparing life expectancy, which summarises the average length of life, rather than years lived, she explained.

Instead, her team used a statistical technique called ‘outsurvival’. It measures the probability a person from an area with a high death rate will outlive a peer from a region with a low one.

Dr Bergeron-Boucher said the study, published in BMJ Open, has implications for public health interventions.

She explained: “We showed some sub-populations of males have a high probability – above 50 percent – of outliving females.

“Males who are married or have a university degree tend to outlive females who are unmarried or do not have a high school diploma.

“Inequalities in lifespan between sexes are attributable to some individuals within each population and not to the whole population.

“Being able to better identify the characteristics of the short- lived men could more efficiently help tackle male-female inequality.”

Being in a couple has been shown to benefit men’s health more than women’s, said Dr Dr Bergeron-Boucher.

She added: “The length of the lifespan of an individual results from a complex combination of biological, environmental and behavioural factors.

“Being male or female does impact lifespan, but it is not the only determinant contributing to inequalities.

“Lifespan has been shown to be influenced by marital status, income, education, race/ethnicity, urban/rural residence, etc.

“Males with a lower education level or who are unmarried have a particularly low chance of outliving a female.

“But males with a university degree or who are married have a higher chance of outliving females, in particular females with a lower education level and who are single.”

Overall, since 1850 between 25 and 50 percent of men have done so in all continents over the past two centuries.

It means between one and two men out of four have outlived a randomly paired woman in almost all points in time.

Dr Bergeron-Boucher said: “Not all females outlive males, even if a majority do. But the minority that do not is not small.

“For example, a sex difference in life expectancy at birth of 10 years can be associated with a probability of males outliving females as high as 40%, indicating that 40% of males have a longer lifespan than that of a randomly paired female.

“Not all males have a disadvantage of 10 years, which is overlooked by solely making comparisons of life expectancy.

“However, a small number of males will live very short lives to result in that difference.

For example, more baby boys die than baby girls in most countries.”

The researchers drew on life tables by sex and individual years for 41 countries from the Human Mortality Database, plus separate data for East and West Germany, and for the four countries of the UK.

They also used abridged life tables from the World Population Prospects 2019. It provides sex-specific information for 199 countries by five-year age groups and periods from 1950-54 to 2015-19.

Finally, they compared the probability of men outliving women by education level and marital status, using national US statistics on deaths and population counts.

In developed countries, the probability of males outliving females fell until the 1970s, after which it gradually increased in all populations.

The rise and fall in sex differences in life expectancy were mainly attributed to smoking and other behavioural differences.

The probability of males living longer than females is generally higher in low/middle-income countries.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean greater gender equality in survival, said the researchers.

They highlight South Asian countries, where values were above 50% for men in the 1950s and 1960s.

The death rate for under fives in India was higher for girls than for boys and has remained higher for girls in recent years.

But fewer girls than boys above the age of 15 have died since the 1980s, ‘balancing out’ the disadvantage at younger ages.

And certain external factors seem to have a key role. For example, between 2015 and 2019, the probability of males outliving females was 40 percent across the entire US population.

But this statistic varied, depending on marital status and educational attainment. The probability of men outliving women was 39 and 37 percent for those who were wed and singletons, respectively.

And it was 43 percent for those with a university degree and 39 percent for those without a high school diploma.

What is more, married men with a degree have an advantage over unmarried women educated only to high school level.

The overall death rate has fallen faster for women than for men under the age of 50, especially in the first half of the 20th century, largely as a result of improvements in infant and child deaths.

And men have not only maintained their survival disadvantage at younger ages, but at older ages too.

They are more prone to accidents and homicides in their 20s and 30s, and they tend to smoke and drink more, leading to higher cancer prevalence and death in their 60s.

Dr Bergeron-Boucher added: “Efforts in reducing lifespan inequalities must thus target diverse factors, causes and ages.”

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