Fascinating Reasons Why A Man's Life Expectancy Is Shorter Than A Woman's

Trigger warning: This article mentions suicide and mental health issues.

It may be distressing for men to realize that their life expectancy is shorter than women's, but unfortunately, it's a statistical fact. In the U.S., most women tend to live five years longer than men, according to Harvard Medical School. Around the world, that number jumps up to 7%. All told, 67% of people over 85 years old around the world are female.

There are a number of factors at work that determine a woman's life expectancy versus a man's, ranging from biology to lifestyle choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control, unintentional injuries is the leading cause of death among men who are 20 to 44 years old. There are also hormonal reasons that may be contributing to women's longevity over men's. And while there are some things men can do to lengthen their lifespans, some factors may be entirely out of their control. 

Men tend to smoke more than women

Despite its associated health risks, tobacco use is still quite common, with every fourth adult worldwide being a smoker. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Close to half a million deaths every year can be attributed to cigarettes. However, although many adults still smoke, the fact is that men are far more likely to reach for a cigarette than women. 

The CDC notes that in 2021, approximately 13% of men smoked cigarettes in the U.S., compared to only about 10% of women. Worldwide, in total, almost one-third of men are cigarette users, while only one in ten women pick up the habit. There are a number of reasons for this, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There is evidence to suggest that nicotine activates the reward centers in men's brains more than it does in women's. 

Regardless of the reasons, however, the fact remains that cigarette smoking is a direct cause of men's shorter lifespans. According to the CDC, 278,544 annual deaths among men are linked to cigarettes, versus 201,773 among women. 

Men take more risks

Whether it's riding motorcycles without a helmet or drinking and driving, men are more inclined to engage in risky, life-threatening behavior than women. There are a number of studies that support this idea, including a 2023 study published in the British Journal of Psychology. According to that study, men tend to be more optimistic than women, which leads them to take more risks. Additionally, women are less inclined to push the boundaries of safety because they tend to consider the emotional consequences of their actions, specifically the pain that their being injured or killed may cause loved ones. 

There may also be a physiological reason for men's risk-taking behavior, according to a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. That study analyzed brain waves known as theta rhythms. These brain waves differ from person to person, and may actually play a role in the decision-making processes of men and women. Hormones could also play a role in men's risky behavior, with high levels of testosterone being a potential culprit.

Men tend to have more dangerous jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most dangerous jobs in the United States are fishing and hunting, roofing, logging, and working as a small aircraft pilot. Of the people working those jobs, 90% are men. Overall, men are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than women. In 2017, 4,761 men died on the job, compared to just 386 women.

A 2016 report published by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research showed that such high-risk professions as construction, mining, firefighting, and the military were predominantly made up of men. These jobs come with an inherent risk, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that jobs that require outdoor work or working around heavy equipment are more dangerous than jobs done indoors. In these professions, men find themselves at risk of exposure to chemicals, electricity, the elements, and the threat of violence. In addition, many men may be even more at risk because of expectations around masculinity and not wavering in the face of danger.

Men have a greater risk of heart disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease was responsible for the deaths of more than 380,000 men in the U.S. in 2021. This makes it the leading cause of death for American men. Heart disease also does not discriminate, as it is the main cause of death for most racial and ethic groups across the U.S. It is second only among Asian and Pacific Islander men, who tend to die of cancer more often than heart disease. 

One of the reasons for men's tendency to develop heart disease more than women has to do with body fat. In men, body fat tends to develop around their midsection, which can be an indication of developing heart disease (via the Louisiana Heart and Vascular Institute). In addition, there are emotional factors that can put men at greater risk. For example, men tend to externalize their emotions in the form of outbursts and aggression. These kinds of outbursts can increase a person's risk of heart attack by a factor of five. 

Men have a higher rate of suicide

A 1998 study in Comprehensive Psychiatry showed that, while women are twice as likely to suffer from depression, they are only one-fourth as likely to commit suicide. In fact, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that, in 2021, men died by suicide nearly four times as women. They also noted that the suicide rate is the highest specifically among middle-aged white men. 

Interestingly, a 2022 study conducted by UCLA and published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that, in suicide deaths among males aged 10 or older, 60% of victims did not have any mental health conditions. Additionally, in those cases, many of the men tended to die more commonly via the use of firearms and while consuming alcohol. However, according to Spring Health, there is a mental health element at work as well, as men are often reluctant to discuss issues like depression and anxiety. And this reluctance is not just limited to the home. A 2018 study (via Thriving at Work) showed that 40% of men will hide any kind of mental issue from their managers for fear of career repercussions.  

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

Men avoid doctors

When it comes to seeking medical care, men have a stubborn streak that could prove costly. In 2019, the Cleveland Clinic conducted a survey that revealed that 65% of men who are suffering from a health condition or injury will put off seeing the doctor for as long as they can. Additionally, the survey showed that 72% of men would rather do household chores, including cleaning the bathroom, than go to the doctor. 

Men's bullheadedness when it comes to visiting the doctor can stem from a number of things, according to Harvard Medical School. There are some men who believe that going to the doctor is somehow not "macho" or masculine, while others cite busy work schedules and other responsibilities as their primary reasons. This aversion can have serious consequences, as certain potentially serious conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, can present with symptoms that can only be picked up by a doctor.  

Testosterone could play a role

Testosterone, the male sex hormone, plays an important role in male development, including increasing height, deepening of the voice, and a stronger libido or sex drive. It's also helpful in keeping your muscles and bones strong and generating red blood cells. In addition, a 2016 report published in Scientific Reports showed that men became more competitive when attractive women were present, which could play a role in men engaging in more risky, aggressive, and dangerous behavior.

Perhaps more distressing, however, is the fact that testosterone may actually, over time, prove detrimental to a man's health. A 2015 study published in Science Daily revealed that men with high testosterone levels have less of a tendency to produce lower levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol. This can leave men more vulnerable to heart disease and other cardiovascular issues. Estrogen, which is more prevalent in women, can be protective of the heart, according to Yale Medicine. It promotes relaxation of the arteries and the generation of good cholesterol, both of which are helpful in leading a long life. 

Women have stronger support systems

While men most certainly have their social circles, the ones that women form may actually go a long way towards improving longevity. According to a 2011 paper published by UCLA, women tend to lean on their friends in times of stress or difficulty. This can help them cope with difficult issues more easily, as opposed to men, who tend to prefer a "fight or flight" response to difficult situations. 

Women's ability to talk through their issues can also result in lower levels of cortisol, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Women & Aging. Cortisol is the body's primary hormone for stress. The study found that women who worked together with friends to solve problems had lower levels of cortisol than when they worked alongside strangers. In men, according to Victory Men's Health, unhealthy levels of cortisol can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and increased visceral fat.

Men have more dangerous health conditions

It's not just carrying extra weight that can be a problem for men; it's also where it's carried. Women and men tend to store fat differently, with women's fat usually showing up in the buttocks, hips, lower abdomen, and thighs. Men, on the other hand, usually find themselves storing fat in their abdomen, which is known as visceral fat. Visceral fat is dangerous, according to WebMD, because it can raise a person's risk for such conditions as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and diabetes. 

According to a 2022 study published in U.S. Pharmacist, two out of every five men in the United States are considered obese, which amounts to nearly half the population. The study also illustrated that lifestyle changes are paramount for eliminating visceral fat, including adopting a diet rich in plant-based foods and lean protein, and developing a fitness regimen involving at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise every day, or up to 150 minutes per week. Reducing the amount of visceral fat men carry around their waists can be a lifesaver in the long run.