Skip to main content
Why Do Women Outlive Men?

You are listening to Health Library:

Why Do Women Outlive Men?

Jun 04, 2015

Have you ever wondered why women tend to outlive men? Turns out, there are a lot of variables and possible explanations for why the average woman will live five years longer the average man. Dr. Kirtly Jones explores some of the reasons behind this interesting phenomenon.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: Across the industrialized world, women live 5 to 10 years longer than men. Among people over 100 years old, 85% of them are women. What's this all about? This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah Health Care and this is about why girls rule in the longevity world on The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health. This is the Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: Life expectancy in the US isn't at an all-time high according to a report released last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and while the news that we're living on average to the ripe old age of 78 years and nine and a half months is not surprising. There's one step it is. A girl born in 2012 can expect to live 81.2 years almost five years longer than a boy born the same year who's likely to live age 76 years. What's going on here? Female newborns, particularly preemies, are more likely to survive than males. Males develop a little later than females especially in lung capacity which is really important for preemies. As a statistical issue, if you lose a male baby shortly after birth, it has a larger impact on statistical average years than if you lose a man at 78 years.

However, even if you're only counting on children having survived to five years old, women live longer than men. Accidents and suicide deaths are much more common in men than women and in young men. You could blame it on culture. You could blame it on testosterone, but the stats are powerful and the fact that they're many more early deaths due to accidents and suicides in men than women. Of course there have been times when the world was at war when the average lifespan of men and women was powerfully affected by the fact that we sent men to the battlefront and not women.

In midlife, men have more heart disease and deaths from heart disease. Smoking is a big issue. Men smoke more than women. Estrogen which men make, but not as much as women, is protective against heart disease until menopause and stress is an issue too. Men process stress culturally a little differently than women. They hold more inside. On the stress issue, women have more friends and stronger social networks. A study from BYU demonstrated that people with stronger social networks live longer than people who don't. Social networks help modify stress.

It may be why married men live longer than unmarried men, or maybe married men get nagged by their wives to get health care. Women access health care more than men. Women are more likely to get their cholesterol checked and get regular checkups and they're more likely to have health insurance than men. Some suggest that 70% of longevity is environmental and 30% is your genes. And remember women have one more X chromosome than men and the Y chromosome doesn't do very much for you. Sorry guys. Well, it does make you a guy and it makes sperm, but in the longevity world it doesn't do that much for you.

This may affect many more areas of longevity than we currently understand and there's a lot of research in this area. And consider this, for chimpanzees in captivity who live to their first birthday, median life expectancy is 31 years for males and 38 years for females. Of course this suggests average. The oldest chimp in captivity was 72 and we're learning more about older chimps every day. These figures were provided to us by the Lincoln Park Zoo's chimp data as part of a unique program we participated in and we are doing work here in Utah to help project future demographic trends in sanctuaries and based on 35 years of records from zoos and aquariums.

Also, female orcas, killer whales in the wild live up to 90 years and males rarely live over 50 years. The average in some studies for females in the wild is about 50 years and for males it's 29. This is hard to test because you have to identify individuals in the wild and orcas in captivity have much shorter lifespans and female dogs are longer than males about two years. Dogs don't smoke. They don't commit suicide. They don't get much heart disease, but a dog's life can be stressful, I guess.

What do we do with these facts? Ladies, don't smoke. Do keep talking to your friends. Share your troubles. Get your checkups.

Men, if you're listening, you could consider the same things. But be careful with your social networks because we all know what guys can get up to when they hang out with just guys and as the scout master of my son's Boy Scout troop said, over and over and over, "Don't do stupid stuff." And we should all take care of each other; men and women together." As for that extra X chromosome thing, sorry guys. Thanks for joining us on The Scope.

Announcer: at University of Utah Health Sciences Radio. If you like what you heard, be sure to get our latest content by following us on Facebook. Just click on the Facebook icon at