Amidst the growing claim that women now live longer than men in the contemporary world, Tunde Ajaja tries to explain why this is so.
Photo credit: The Punch
From time immemorial, women have always been regarded as the weaker sex, when compared to men. But that seems to be nothing more than a cliché now as women appear to be increasingly outshining men in several things.
For example, scientists have proved that women are smarter, more intelligent, emotionally stronger and they make better leaders. But beyond these remarkable comparative advantages, it has also been shown that women live longer than men and the difference could be as high as 10 years.
Interestingly, according to a list of verified 100 oldest people in the world, compiled between February 1985 and May 2016, there are 94 females and only six males on the list.
And until August 2016 when a 145-year-old man, Mbah Gotho, was discovered in Indonesia, a French woman, Jeanne Calment had been on record as the oldest verified person of all time, as she lived for 122 years, 164 days, outliving both her daughter and grandson by several decades, before she died on August 4, 1997.
Several reasons have been adduced for women’s greater longevity. From general knowledge, it can easily be assumed that women tend to live longer because men engage in more risky jobs; women tend to be more careful in terms of habits and lifestyle, like smoking and drinking and they are care-givers (mothers) which could make them to be more careful with their lives. And out of these factors, lifestyle is said to be very important, especially when it comes to smoking and drinking, but there is more.
According to a study by Professors Waldron Ingrid and Sebastian Johnston, they found that women tend to secrete less of the stress hormones, which would be advantageous for their longevity on the long run. They argued further that women are more likely to live longer due to their differing environment, roles and lifestyles compared with men.
They said, “Generally, males are engaged in the more stressful, physically demanding and hazardous occupations. Also, cigarette smoking, one of many factors that have distinguished the typical lifestyle and personal habits of men and women in past years, has been identified as a major contributor to the difference.
“Beyond that, women are more likely to secure earlier diagnosis and appropriate treatment for health conditions, including particularly the serious illnesses and women are less likely to be self-destructive, be it through suicide or alcoholism, they are also less likely to engage in acts of violence or to be aggressive and excessive risk takers.”
But, the founder of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, United States, Dr. Tom Perls, in his post on time.com said women are more likely to live longer because they usually have some delay when it comes to having some cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack and stroke. Whereas, he said men tend to develop such diseases earlier in life, like in their 50s and 60s while for the women, it could be in their 80s.
He said, “One reason for that delay in onset of cardiovascular disease could be that women are relatively iron-deficient compared to men — especially younger women, those in their late teens and early 20s — because of menstruation.
“Also, iron plays a very important part in the reactions in our cells that produce damaging free radicals, which glom onto cell membranes and DNA, and may translate into aging the cell.”
And in the view of Prof. Thomas Kirkwood, a biologist and the director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University in England, there are other reasons women live longer than men.
He said with the kind of hardship and stressful work men do, they tend to drive themselves to an early grave, unlike women who do less stressful jobs and develop healthier habits than men, as most women abstain from smoking and drinking.
Some people have actually tied such unhealthy habits in men to the surge in testosterone, which, according to them, instigate them to engage in such things, like taking too much alcohol, smoking, which could lead to higher death rate.
Kirkwood explained that beyond lifestyle and other habits, the female body has the ability to repair damaged cells in the body, noting that the reasons for women’s greater longevity are more biological.
He said, “As an experimental gerontologist, I approach this issue from a wider biological perspective, by looking at other animals. It turns out that the females of most species live longer than the males. This phenomenon suggests that the explanation for the difference within humans might lie deep in our biology.
“Many scientists believe that the aging process is caused by the gradual buildup of a huge number of individually tiny faults. This degenerative buildup means that the length of our lives is regulated by the balance between how fast new damage strikes our cells and how efficiently this damage is corrected.
“However, there is evidence from studies in rodents that cells in a female body do repair damage better than in the body of a male and that surgical removal of the ovaries eliminates this difference.”
He said even though women strive for equality with men, they should be consoled by the fact that they are less disposable, in relation to the vital role they play in reproduction and their system is so designed to withstand the stress of carrying a foetus for such a long time and then breastfeed afterwards.
He added, “Could it be that women live longer because they are less disposable in terms of genetic materials than men? This notion, in fact, makes excellent biological sense. In humans, as in most animal species, the state of the female body is very important for the success of reproduction. So, to be less disposable, however, is a blessing that offers some compensation.”
Beyond these, some researchers from Imperial College School of Medicine in London, found that women live longer than men because they have stronger immune system, which helps them to guard against certain ailments even when they are old.
In the research, led by Dr. Richard Aspinall and Dr. Jeffery Pido-Lopez, they monitored the volume of white cells in 46 men and women. They were all aged between 20 and 62 and were all healthy.
At the end of the study, they found that women produce more white blood cells, which are the cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders, than men.
According to the report, published on Mail Online, even though the thymus gland producing T-lymphocytes for the immune system produced fewer cells as the age increased, women still had higher levels of new T-cells than men of same age with them.
One of the researchers, Pido-Lopez said, “Men are exposed to more hazardous substances at work and take part in activities that are more damaging to health, and risk can explain anything from number of car crash deaths to deaths from colon cancer, but there are probably other factors such as thymic output that contribute to the difference in longevity.”
Commenting on the different reasons, a sociologist, Monday Ahibogwu, also said there are different reasons women live longer than men, including the fact that men are engaged in stressful jobs than women.
“You don’t get women driving trucks or doing some very stressful jobs, so there are a lot of things that women don’t do that put them in a more relaxed social environment,” which, combined with other factors, influence their longevity,” he added.