Why do women outlive men?
There are plenty of theories about this. The pat answer from the Angry Guys Crowd is often, “Well, duh, we work harder and are more stressed out.” Aw, grow up. I’m certainly not the most politically correct of men, and I think the wave of feminism in the early 90s was pretty tough for a lot of guys to swallow (forever giving that Limbaugh something to rant about). But news flash, guys. Nearly as many women work full-time as men, more women now go to college than men, and if raising kids while simultaneously working a career isn’t stressful, what is?
As the parents of both a teen girl and boy, Carrie and I see very stressful challenges beginning to hit both of them. Let’s be honest: girls are still expected to look attractive, but now they need to be increasingly career-minded and financially savvy, too. Boys have a sharp line to walk – these days, men are also judged by their appearance as well as the traditional “manly” achievements like financial success and social leadership. (That said, still, I don’t see any guy having to deal with the question: “But how will I balance work and family?” This still confronts most women.) This isn’t about me piping up on the politics of feminism, but any guy who still thinks men work harder or are more stressed out needs to take a look around. Men and women both have unique stresses and challenges, and the real issue here is health.
So if it’s not really the level of stress or the 9-to-5 life, why are guys still croaking 5 to 10 years earlier than women? Is it because men go to the doctor less, are taught as boys to ignore pain, take more risks (cars, sports, booze, fights) and eat more junk? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not all.
Are men still kicking the bucket too early because more money has been diverted in recent years to women’s health? That’s what this article, which inspired this post, questions (it’s a knock-out piece of reporting, so please check it out). But that argument doesn’t pass muster. It might be a factor, but the overwhelming issue here is that men just don’t go to the doctor. For example, every guy knows prostate cancer is a big risk to all men – but we avoid the doctor anyway. I don’t think the fact that more money has finally been spent on women’s breast cancer research is the reason men are dying of prostate cancer or are dying sooner in general. This boys-versus-girls health debate makes for a good news piece on the T.V., but biology is the answer here, not politics.
Even accounting for all possible factors, and even when the odds are fairly and squarely stacked, scientists come up with the same darn result every time: the dudes do not fare well.
Here’s the reason: nature didn’t design us to live as long as women. (Gasp!) Men may be the stronger, tougher sex. We’ve got brute force down cold. We can fight off a pack of wolves like no other – guys, we rock. Unfortunately, we now live in the modern world, where it’s much more desirable and useful to our families for us to live a long time, not fend off roaming wild animals. Guys, when it comes to our biology, we need an update. Man 2.0.
It all goes back to human development (and the article mentioned above explores this nicely, too). It made sense for a man to be stronger and tougher but not long-lived, because men were, frankly, expendable. Yes, men, we are completely replaceable. Little prehistoric tribe loses a guy? No big deal – another guy could easily take his place (in frank reproductive survival terms). One man could ensure the survival of a village if absolutely necessary, but a group needs more than one woman to keep going. From an evolutionary biology perspective, women were just more valuable. Men are designed to run fast and furious – it’s not a slow burn.
So, now that we are all living in a modern world, if men want to live longer, we’ve got to upgrade the system. Men, we have to manage stress better. (Not because we’re more stressed; but because our bodies don’t handle stress as well. Girls get most of the soothing oxytocin). As in, reduce it and let it out so you feel relaxed (that means lots of exercise, not solely beer and the game, genius). You have to work out more than your wife, period. You do. You have to stop eating fast food, period. Completely.
A guy who avoids fast food, really manages stress, and stays trim has an excellent shot at some serious longevity. But biology, in addition to all the stupid stuff we do in our twenties, has set us up for shorter lifespans, so take action today, guys.
What are your thoughts?
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If you’re a science nut like me, here are some great blogs:
Art DeVany – a good friend of mine and an original thinker with an interesting perspective
Omni Brain – all about the human brain: fun, interesting and informative