Why do men die younger compared to women?

What you need to know:

  • People with fewer or weaker social connections tend to have higher death rates, for reasons that are unclear, and this tends to be men more often than women.

This is not about a particular male; who may well outlive a particular female. I am writing about a statistically average male, compared with a statistically average female. 

On average, men tend to be less likely to be passionate about looking after their health; and/or even to visit their doctor for a health check. There are often more women than men in health care facilities and/or in health workers’ consultation rooms for a routine health check.

According to the 2024 population and housing census, life expectancy for women in Uganda was 64.9 years against 60.4 years for men.

At a global level, women report more frequently any problem and seek care for ill-health, stress, depression, and/or anxiety. It is also known that women experience lower earnings and face many inequalities but they outlive men across the globe. Why then do men die younger than women?

According to https://www.health.qld.gov.au/, many humans tend to underestimate risk but men overestimate too much. They suppress their emotions, they are more impulsive and sensation-seeking. They take more frequent and more dangerous risks.

Biologists tell us that hormonal differences may give an explanation here. According to biology, the frontal lobes in the brains of boys and young men are described as being slow in developing. This part of the brain is believed to be involved in judgment and evaluating consequences, and this delayed development may contribute to boys and young men engaging in more risky behaviors and activities.

In many higher-risk tasks—such as military combat, construction, oil rigs, diving, hunting, search and rescue, police and army work, and firefighting; men outnumber women considerably. More men than women participate in higher-risk sports and activities, especially contact sports such as rugby and boxing, or driving cars or motorcycles at high speeds, or racing. Adverse incidents may lead to long-term disability and premature death. 

A study of nearly 34,000 people in Norway who had a heart attack between 1979 and 2012 found that throughout life, men are about twice as likely as women to have a heart attack. Even after adjusting for traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, body mass index and physical activity, the risk persisted. Experts still aren’t sure why. However, biology is likely to be a factor.

The female sex hormone estrogen is known to be protective against cardiovascular disease and is partly responsible for the lower incidence of such diseases in women up until menopause. The male sex hormone testosterone is higher in men and is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Female bodies are known to produce stronger immune responses and larger amounts of antibodies compared with male bodies. This may help them ward off diseases and live longer. Studies have also shown that in general, women are more health conscious and have higher awareness of physical and mental symptoms than men. They also are more likely to communicate their health problems or needs effectively.

Men are generally less likely to see their doctor when they have symptoms, complete a course of treatment, do routine health checks, and skip recommended screening tests. Failing to seek treatment or to complete treatment for illness, injury, or chronic conditions may make health outcomes worse for men.

People with fewer or weaker social connections tend to have higher death rates, for reasons that are unclear, and this tends to be men more often than women.

Men have a higher rate of suicide and suicide attempts than women. They are also even less likely to adhere to health promotional messages and preventive precautions and interventions. Men are also more likely to be homeless, or in custody.

Some reasons for improvements in life expectancy for men and women include: improving healthcare, creating safer working environments and medical/technological advances.

It is known that we can live healthily as much as we can by: not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a healthy balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting regular exercise, reducing stress, reducing exposure to toxins and radiation, seeking medical advice when you have physical or mental symptoms, having regular medical check-ups, and completing recommended screening tests, to identify any underlying risk we are not aware about.

Wilson Winstons Muhwezi [BA.SWSA; M.Phil; PhD.] Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences & Mental Health Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine Makerere University, College of Health Sciences.