Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

18.1C: Gender Differences in Aging

  • Page ID
    8516
  • Aging to sex ratios show women living longer than men, but this gap has been quickly narrowing since 1990.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Analyze the gender gap that exists leading to women generally living longer than men

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Women tend to live longer than men, and the ratio of women to men is high among the elderly.
    • The percentage of men aged 65 and up grew faster than the percentage of women aged 65 and up, according to the 2010 census.
    • The longevity of women relative to men is likely due to their better cardiovascular health, the fact that they are less likely to engage in risky behavior, and the fact that traditionally, physical labor is more frequently performed by men.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • centenarian: Being at least 100 years old.

    Women tend to live longer than men in almost every country. In Japan, men generally live to about 79, whereas women live to 83. However, in the United States, that gender gap is beginning to close. The percentage of men aged 65 and up grew faster than the percentage of women aged 65 and up, according to the 2010 census. For example, the number of men aged 85 to 94 grew 46.5% between 2000 and 2010, but the number of women in that age group grew only 22.9%.

    However, for the very oldest members of the population, the gender gap still holds true. The United States Census reports that of the 53,364 centenarians, or people over the age of 100, 82.8% are women and only 17.2% are male. In other words, out of the entire American population, 1 out of every 3,551 females is a centenarian while only 1 out or 16,566 males is a centenarian. Thus, even though the gender gap is narrowing, women are still expected to live longer than men.

    image

     

    A Comparison of Genders: This graph illustrates the differences in life expectancy at birth for males and females in the United States, from 1950 to 2050.

    These figures could be due, in part, to the sex ratio. The sex ratio is the ratio of men to women in a given society or country. The current sex ratio for the world is 986 females to 1000 males. In the United States, the ratio is 105 males to every 100 females. However, men tend to live riskier lives, are more prone to heart disease and cancer, and women are therefore likely to live longer than men. In fact, cancer deaths among men are 200 per 100,000 cases, whereas women are only 150 per 100,000 (from the National Cancer Institute).

    Why women live longer than men is not perfectly understood. Several factors contribute to the overall trend. For example, men statistically engage in more behaviors that put their lives at risk than women, which reduces their life expectancy. Men are also more “successful” when attempting suicide, which also brings down their life expectancy. Another factor that may contribute to the greater life expectancy of women is the different types of jobs men and women tend to have during their lifetimes, with men more frequently doing physical labor that could wear the body down or increase the odds of injury. Other biological factors likely play a role, including greater cardiovascular health among women.