Why do Women Live Longer than Men?

In the Past Century Women have Tended to Live Longer than Men

During the past century, women, on average, have tended to live longer than men. Even in earlier times, women who survived childbirth tended to live longer than their husbands. Surviving childbirth was the key as, until the twentieth century, childbirth was the major cause of death among women and the major reason men in those days often ended up marrying more than once. 

This factor probably had a demographic effect as well causing the adult population to be more male than female.  As a result widowers were forced to seek younger women as replacement wives since the pool of single older women was small to non-existant.  And a younger woman attempting to establish her authority in a household with children from a previous marriage who were nearly her age probably led to conflict (and even more conflict when she bore children of her own and tended to favor them over the previous wife's children) which probably accounts for the bad image of step-mothers in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and others. 

There are probably many reasons why women, on average, tend to live longer than men. Genetics may play a part, but there are probably other,environmental, reasons which we, as individuals, may be able to exercise some control.

Life Expectancy and Insurance

A number of years ago I worked in the insurance industry selling life and health insurance among other products. Health insurance policies were always more expensive for women than for men even though the age and current overall health were the same for both. However, the exact opposite was true for life insurance as policies for women were significantly lower than for men whose age and health were the same.

Statistics showed that women, on average, tended to need/seek medical attention more frequently than men and that is why they were charged higher premiums for the insurance - the company had to pay more claims, on average, for women than for men. With life insurance, statics showed that the period between the time the policy was taken out and the time that the insured died and the benefit had to be paid was shorter for men, on average, than women with similar age and circumstances.

The off the cuff explanation for this among the agents was that because women tended to seek medical attention more frequently than men they were able to treat and cure ailments that tended to kill the men. Of course, it could be that, because of their more complex reproductive systems, women tend to need more medical attention than men and the fact that they utilize medical services more frequently than men has little or nothing to do with their tendency to live longer. It could also be that because men in general tend to look upon themselves as being tough and independent, that they ignore medical problems until it is too late while women, being more open to asking for help, will seek medical attention sooner. If this is the case then the off the cuff insurance agent explanation described above is true.

I suspect that there is some truth in both explanations of the medical insurance / life insurance premium cost differences above and that habits and attitudes play a big part in explaining the difference between life expectancy of men and women.

Stress is Probably the Biggest Single Factor

Heart attacks are the leading killer among men and stress, along with lifestyle and diet, plays a very big role in heart attacks. Men tend to be more aggressive both in going after what they want as well as in business and personal relationships and this can be a major source of stress. Men have also traditionally assumed the role of providers which required them to go out and engage in risky and stressful encounters in the world whether it be risking their lives, like our primitive ancestors, battling the elements hunting for food or modern day business people risking money and careers on uncertain business deals. Women, on the other hand, have historically tended to focus their attentions on the home, seeking to create an environment of safety and comfort. Not that women had an easier task - managing a home often requires a lot of hard work but this is not necessarily accompanied by a great deal of stress.

Men also tend to be aggressive and competative in many aspects of their lives. While women tend to approach things like eating with moderation, men tend to approach them more aggressively. For most women a meal is a means of obtaining nourishment and socializing while for men it is often another chance to prove their strength. How many women have you seen take pride in being able to consume a one pound steak or an extra helping of desert in a single sitting? Contrast this with many men who will boast of such accomplishments. Alcohol is another area in which women tend to indulge in with more moderation than their male counterparts. For many men alcohol consumption is a source of bragging rights while one rarely hears women bragging about how well they can hold their liquor.

In dealing with stress, women are more likely to let it out while men tend to hold it in and holding it in is not healthy. Also, men are often more likely to try to numb the pain of stress with excessive consumption of alcohol and/or food which, again, is not healthy.

Of course we are talking about averages here and one can easily come up with lists of men and women who are the exact opposite of what I have described above - which is one reason why some men will live unusually long lives while some women will die young.

We obviously do have control over our habits and reactions and this, plus changing life styles, appears to be changing the statistics. In recent years women have increasingly joined men in the role of providers working outside the home. Heart attack rates among women have been increasing at the same time. There has also been an increasing interest and emphasis on health with more people, both men and women, seeking healthy outlets for stress and employers placing increasing emphasis on employee health. As a result of these and other factors, the average life spans of both men and women have been increasing.

Changing Annuity Benefits May Signal a Narrowing of the Life Expectancy Gap

While I haven't had need to check the cost of health or life insurance recently, I have been reviewing my employer's pension plan (which is a traditional defined benefit plan in which they basically provide an annuity to pay a fixed monthly income during retirement) and exploring the purchase of annuities for my wife and myself.

An annuity is basically the opposite of a life insurance policy. As one of my college finance professors used to put it, with a life insurance policy you bet the life insurance company that you will die soon while they are betting (and hoping) that you will live a long time. With an annuity you are betting that you will live a long time while the insurance company is betting that you will die soon. Of course with life insurance you are paying for the policy with small payments over time while the insurance company is on the line to pay a large sum upon your death. With an annuity you pay the insurance company a large sum up front and they, in turn, guarantee to pay a much smaller fixed sum monthly for life.

Logically, an annuity should cost more for a woman than a man since, historically, she can be expected to live longer. Using the same logic, a younger person should be expected to pay more for an annuity (here I am talking about age at which monthly income benefits start and not situation where one makes small payments over time rather than single large payment for an annuity that will start paying monthly benefits at some future time) than an older person.

For couples, one option with annuities is to have a single annuity for the two of them and structure it so that it guarantees to pay a fixed monthly income for life until the second one dies. Obviously, with two people involved there is a greater chance that the insurance company will have to make payments over a longer period especially when there are sex or age differences between the two. To cover this extra cost, the insurance company can either make the monthly payment smaller or charge more for the annuity.

However, when I went online and ran the numbers to estimate my retirement income, the difference in the monthly payment between a monthly payment for me for the rest of my life and a monthly payment for both my wife and me to run until the death of the second one was less $30 per month. This, despite the fact that she is not only a woman, but also a decade younger than me. I assumed that there was something wrong with the online calculator and forgot about it until I was discussing with an insurance agent the possibility of using some of my investment funds to purchase an annuity. Just for the heck of it I had him calculate it both for me alone and for my wife and me together and, again, the estimated monthly income payment was less than $30. When I commented on this, the agent replied that sex was no longer that big a factor in the calculations.

Individuals Can Take Steps to Beat the Odds

In the final analysis, I can only conclude that environmental factors, many of which we have some control over, have been more important than genetics in determining differences in life expectancies between men and women.  As these factors have been changing, so too are the average differences in life expectancies.  The good news is that, if this is true, individuals can take steps to increase their life expectancy regardless of what the statistics show for the population as a whole.

© 2008 Chuck Nugent

More by this Author


Comments 12 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 months ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Credence2 - Thanks for visiting my Hub and for your comments. You make some good points about possible biological explanations which could also explain reasons for women tending to live longer than men. Thanks again for your comments.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 7 months ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Interesting, if not all emcompassing. Woman consistently out live men in every culture around the globe, varied lifestyles not withstanding.

I am looking for biological explantiaons, i.e. men are generally larger and burn more calories and simply run out of gas sooner. Perhaps, the same factors that make their heart attack and stroke risk at generally higher chronological ages then men, may have something to do with an extended life expectancy in general.

This is food for thought, thanks....


powerofknowledge1 profile image

powerofknowledge1 5 years ago

Great Hub


CalSherrifMD profile image

CalSherrifMD 5 years ago from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

well women do have a cardioprotective bonus from their estrogen content . although that fades out after menopause


AllSuretyBonds profile image

AllSuretyBonds 5 years ago

Great Hub. Very interesting information here.

Here is a great article in TIME magazine to add to your article.

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,182...


ubalildon profile image

ubalildon 5 years ago

This's a very interesting article


poojabrahmi profile image

poojabrahmi 5 years ago

We really can't put one reasoning behind why do women live longer than men.. considering some of the factors that I can think of right now is mainly because the society expect men to support the family - Financially(therefore more stress). on the other hand women can choose to stay back home and take care of the family( which is also quite challenging).

And an obvious fact about smoking and drinking habits of men need no explaination!


Beaker 6 years ago

I'd have to disagree heartily with your reasoning. I have both been a breadwinner and a stay-at-home wife, and staying at home was far, far more stressful. Taking care of the home and the family is a 24-hour job in which little actually gets accomplished and the job never, ever ends. Going to work is a breeze next to that.

Basically, I think that engaging in riskier behaviors is the most likely cause. Driving faster, driving drunk, being more likely to rock climb and jump out of airplanes, being more inclined to smoke and being more promiscuous all tend to shorten men's lives. Men also tend to care less about what they eat and to not take the time to get daily exercise. It's all about their priorities and inclinations.

Yes, some women jump out of airplanes and some eat junk food all day, but think about how the people that you observe around you really behave. The men are always more likely to do whatever they want without worrying so much about the consequences. When you do that, you can't expect to live as long as people who stress a lot about the consequences of all of their actions.


susanlang profile image

susanlang 6 years ago

A wealth of information here. However, it's not always true for all women and the numbers are changing as I write this.


Georgina_writes profile image

Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

Interesting hub, taking on board Patty's comment about heart disease and the fact that we're catching you guys up in the alcohol consumption stakes, I wonder if the gap will narrow. The basic fact is though, that oestrogen protects us against all sorts of things (note the rise in serious illnesses post menopause), whereas testosterone shortens your life.


Nickny79 profile image

Nickny79 7 years ago from New York, New York

"Men tend to be more aggressive both in going after what they want as well as in business and personal relationships and this can be a major source of stress." I'm sure your getting lots of thumbs up from the feminists. Interesting point you raised about the life-expectancy of women being drastically reduced in previous centuries due to complications with pregnancies. I touched upon this point in a hub I wrote about on ancient Greece. You get a thumbs up from me.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America

Good information!

For wiomen, unfortunately, cardiac disease is now also the number one killer among women. It is also often misdiagnosed, so women must be made aware of what regular screenings are necessary (Heart Association website) - especially after menopause when the protective estrogen effects are reduced.

Thanks for the Hub.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working