It has long been a well known fact that women live longer than men do. However, a new study published this week shows that this wasn’t always the case. The differences between men and women’s life expectancies began to emerge in the late 1800s.
For the study, researchers analysed information from people born between 1800 and 1935 in 13 developed countries. The trend started to emerge in 1870 when deaths from infectious diseases began to become less common and more deaths were linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease, which affect men more than women.
Cardiovascular disease was the main cause of the higher death rates among men, the researchers said. Heart disease and stroke accounted for more than 40 percent of the increase in male mortality rates versus female mortality rates between 1880 and 1919, the researchers noted.
Men are more likely to die early than women, especially between the ages of 50 to 70. After aged 80, the discrepancy decreases somewhat. The gender gap in life expectancy emerged in people born after 1880 when male to female mortality ratios increased by as much as 50 per cent.
Smoking was identified as one of the causes for increased mortality in men, however, it only accounts for about 30 per cent of excess male deaths at ages 50-70 for people born after 1890.
As infectious diseases – which take the lives of both sexes more or less evenly – became less common causes of death, and diets and general health were improved, women benefitted from the improvements more than men. Males continue to have a greater vulnerability to cardiovascular conditions and since 1990 heart disease has been the main risk to men’s lives.