Why do women live longer than men?
Men live shorter lives in almost every part of the world. But what makes women the stronger gender?
The Transport Club Bingo Hall in Crumlin is where you can meet some of Ireland ’s most robust citizens – the over-70s females.
When it comes to the ultimate show of strength – who can stay alive the longest – the women gathering here tonight for a weekly bingo showdown are among the elite. Most have outlived their husbands, male siblings and friends by many years.
Why do men die before their wives? “Because they want to,” according to one joke. The mostly female crowd at bingo have a rather different theory.
“My husband died 16 years ago and he used to always say he’d see me down,” says 84-year-old Elizabeth Whelan proudly. “Women are stronger. If a man got the prod of a pin, he’d go to bed where if you broke your knee, he’d send you to work. My husband did work hard alright but he was strong as a horse for the drinking when he hit the pub.”
According to another bingo goer, Patricia Lynch, who was widowed in her early 50s, women live longer because they have more responsibilities.
“That’s what makes them stronger, they want to keep going for their families. We copped it a long time ago that men die younger because all my friends are widows.”
Woman after woman here recounts how her husband died years ago and that the men in their families lived shorter lives.
Irish men live an average of five years less than Irish women. Walk into any nursing home in the State and you will find four women to every man. A spokesperson from Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed that only “two out of 10” applications for the centenarian bounty, a gift from the President to citizens who reach their 100th birthday, are male.
In a handful of countries, women’s lot is so poor that their usual life expectancy advantage is null and void. The average Afghan women lives to 41, a year less than an Afghan man, partly because of the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world and chronic sex discrimination.
The science behind why men die younger is complex and much debated. According to gerontologists, about 30 per cent of the difference can be explained by biology and the remaining 70 per cent by environmental factors.
One controversial theory is that women’s long-term survival is more important because of their childbearing role. In most species, but particularly where offspring are highly dependant on adults for survival for a long number of years, females have evolved to survive longer to bring their young to maturity.
Men have a genetic disadvantage that is there from conception. Male babies are more likely to be miscarried (for every 115 males conceived, only 104 will be born) and during the first year of life, male mortality is 25 per cent greater than female mortality.
Although 104 boys are born for every 100 girls, by age 25 women are in the majority. Because females have two X chromosomes, a woman with an abnormal gene on one of her X chromosomes has a back-up on the second and so can avoid the expression of disease. Men have an X and a Y chromosome so they have no “spare” if a gene is defective.