Longevity Gap Between the Genders Widens

Women are living 5.9 years longer than men, the biggest gap in 25 years

Gail Markowski is an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner program coordinator at UB.

The longstanding longevity gap between American males and females has widened to 5.9 years, the biggest discrepancy between the genders in 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Part of the reason why women live longer is that the types of employment ranked most dangerous tend to be male-dominated ones.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the most dangerous jobs in order as: tree trimmers and pruners; commercial pilots (not including passenger plane pilots); farm and ranch animal workers; loggers; roofers; first-line supervisors of farming, fishing and forestry workers; agricultural equipment operators; heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers; underground mining machine operators; and farm equipment mechanics and service technicians. These all employ many more men than women. But at any age, males are more likely to die than females, so it’s not only job-related.

The entire reason why women live even longer remains unclear. However, adopting a few healthful strategies can increase their chances of healthy longevity.

Gail Markowski, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner program coordinator at UB, said that biological differences between the two genders represent one factor as to why women live longer.

“It is felt that estrogen in women protects from heart disease by reducing circulating levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol,” Markowski said. “Physically, men have more fat surrounding their organs, known as visceral fat. Women have fat under their skin, known as subcutaneous fat. The fat that surrounds the organs which men have predicts heart disease.”

She added that women’s stronger immune systems also help.

Higher testosterone levels also weaken the immune system, as does the effects of aging for men.

“While women have two X chromosomes, men have an X and a Y,” Markowski explained. “Many men begin to lose their Y chromosome in some of their cells as they age. This appears to be especially true for smokers. The loss occurs mainly in cells that undergo rapid turnover, such as blood cells. Scientists have found that men who suffer Y chromosome loss are more likely to die at a younger age and suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. There is recent research indicating that losing the Y chromosome causes fibrosis — scarring — in the heart, resulting in heart failure and an earlier death.”

The biological effects of gender are immutable. However, Markowski said that men can improve longevity through lifestyle changes.

“Many men are involved in more risky behavior such as excessive alcohol use, tobacco use, driving more recklessly and eating more indulgently,” she said. “Alcohol consumption, smoking and a diet of eating whatever is desired lead to heart disease, increased cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, which in itself is a risk factor for cardiac and vascular problems contributing to a shorter lifespan.”

Seeking proper healthcare and preventive care could also help more men increase their longevity instead of “toughing it out” when sick or hurt, she added.

“Waiting longer before seeking medical care can cause disease or illness diagnosed at a later stage makes treatment more difficult and often leading to poor outcomes,” Markowski said.

Typically, women use healthcare earlier and more frequently. That extends to mental healthcare as well, since the stigma for doing so is often higher for men. Women also tend to find better means of improving mental health.

“Men have anxiety and depression just as women do, but women may have healthier coping mechanisms such as exercise, yoga or forms of self-care,” Markowski said.

Forming close friendships with other men and forging tighter family bonds can also help improve mental health.

“Fitness and physical activity generally reduce the risk of chronic diseases, which can play a role in longevity and quality of life,” said Kara Kane, public information officer for the Erie County Health Department.

Most men of healthy weight should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Men who are overweight may need more.

Kane encourages men — or women — who are interested in improving their healthful longevity to look into the resources available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html and www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm to learn more about physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer was the second leading cause of death, after heart disease, in the United States in 2020. In 2020, there were 602,350 cancer deaths; 284,619 were among females and 317,731 among males.