Why Women Live Longer than Men

Heart disease linked to shorter lifespan in men

It’s well-known that women live longer than men do, but this may not have always been the case. Ladies, you may be able to thank the late 1800s for your longevity.

A new study from the University of Southern California (USC) found that heart disease tends to affect men much more than women. This susceptibility to heart attacks, heart failure and other heart conditions is likely at the root of lifespan differences.

“We were surprised at how the divergence in mortality between men and women, which originated as early as 1870, was concentrated in the 50 to 70 age range and faded out sharply after age 80,”said lead study author and USC Professor of Gerontology Eileen Crimmins, PhD, in a press release.

According to Dr. Crimmins and team, significant differences in lifespan for men and women became apparent at the beginning of the 20th century.

Both men and women benefited from the turn-of-the-century's improved diets, better sanitation and better prevention against infectious disease. However, although the average lifespan of both sexes improved, women quickly gained the upper hand in the longevity department.

Dr. Crimmins and team looked at lifespan data on people born between 1800 and 1935. This data included men and women from 13 developed nations.

During this time, female death rates dropped 70 percent faster than male death rates.

According to Dr. Crimmins and team, smoking accounted for 30 percent of the difference. In that era, women were less likely to smoke than men.

After controlling for smoking-related illness, men had much higher death rates from heart disease — especially in middle and old age.

While this study doesn’t show why men were so much more susceptible to heart disease, Dr. Crimmins and team theorized that men may be more susceptible because of differences in fat distribution, hormonal influences or sex-linked factors.

This study was published in the July issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Institute on Aging funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.