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Why do women live longer than men?

by Laurence-Emmanuelle Bédard Published on September 3, 2015

While women now live longer than men, this phenomenon is a relatively recent part of our history. So what’s behind this life expectancy gender gap? ​

In every nation in the world, be it wealthy or poor, or industrialized or developing, women outlive men. In Canada, the average life expectancy is 83 for women and 79 for men. But believe it not, it hasn’t always been this way.

According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, this trend only began in the late 19th century, when medical breakthroughs and improved living conditions led to longer lives for everyone, especially women. It wasn’t until 1880 that death rates among women aged 40 to 90 began to decline 70% faster than that of men, a gender gap that has persisted ever since.

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The main reason behind men’s shorter lives is heart disease. Indeed, 40% of male deaths can be attributed to cardiovascular disease.

High-fat diets, which became more commonplace in the early 20th century, have certainly contributed to heart disease, but why are men more adversely affected than women? Is it that they eat more high fat foods than women or don’t exercise as much as women? Perhaps, but how their bodies absorb and store fat is more likely the reason. Men don’t gain weight in the same way as women and the excess fat they store may be more lethal to them.

Neither anatomy nor lifestyle in and of itself determines men’s longevity but rather both factors combined. The good news is that men can at least do something about one of them!

by Laurence-Emmanuelle Bédard