Explaining the Life Expectancy Gap Between Men and Women 

In 2010, women had a projected life expectancy that was approximately 4.8 years longer than their male counterparts. In 2021, the gap widened to 5.8 years. Girls born in 2021 now have an average life expectancy of 79, versus just 73 for their male counterparts born in the same year. 

This stark difference prompts a resounding question for both genders: What is causing men to have shorter life expectancies than women? Numerous biological, behavioral and social factors contribute to a person’s potential lifespan. Today, we explore some of these contributors, hoping that understanding these factors will pave the way for targeted interventions and extended longevity for men. 

Biological Factors 

Men and women have genetic, physiological and hormonal differences. These disparities make up the biological factors that affect a person’s life expectancy. Below, we break down some of the biological factors that contribute to these variations. 

Genetic Differences 

A person’s life expectancy may date back to the moment they were conceived, living simply as a rapidly increasing ball of cells. How, you ask? Females have XX chromosomes, whereas males have XY chromosomes. 

Because females have two Xs, they have a slight genetic advantage. Their cells can choose the better X chromosome from either parent, increasing their chances of having a genetically stable and healthy life. On the flip side, males can only use the X chromosomes from their mothers, so their cells don’t have the opportunity to pick the best chromosomes. 

Hormonal Influences 

Estrogen is the hormone responsible for sexual and reproductive development in females. A woman’s higher levels of estrogen may have a positive effect on their heart and circulatory systems, making them less prone to heart disease than men and contributing to the overall life expectancy gap. 

Lifestyle Factors 

Men and women adopt different daily habits, some healthy and some not. Each of those habits impacts their overall health and longevity. Below, we discuss some of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to the length of a person’s life expectancy. 

Daily Behaviors 

Multiple studies have consistently shown that men are more inclined to participate in unhealthy habits, like smoking cigarettes and consuming excess alcohol. According to a 2018 survey in the Men’s Health Forum, 16.4% of men in England said they smoked cigarettes, compared to only 12.6% of women. 

The same survey indicated that 31% of English men engaged in hazardous levels of alcohol consumption, whereas only 16% of English women reported doing so. These habits can contribute to future health issues and increased mortality rates among men. 

Healthcare Utilization 

The CDC discovered that American women were 33% more likely than American men to visit the doctor. Although this percentage decreased with age, women were still twice as likely as men to schedule medical appointments for annual examinations and preventive services. 

These statistics suggest that men may tend to postpone seeking medical attention even when they sense something is wrong internally. Furthermore, if they skip regular check-ups, they may miss the chance for a doctor to diagnose a health issue that they may not have noticed, only seeking medical assistance once their condition has advanced. 

Social Factors 

Several societal norms also influence a person’s expected lifespan, as outlined below: 

Occupational Hazards 

Traditionally, men are more likely to work in occupations that are more physically demanding, such as construction work, firefighting, mining, logging and other roles that involve operating heavy machinery. While it’s become more normal for women to also take on similar roles, a BLS study reported that the fatality rate for women workers was one death per 100,000 employed. In contrast, the fatality rate for men was nine deaths per 100,000 employed men. 

Support Networks 

Growing up, did you ever notice the women in your family merrily flocking together during family get-togethers, enjoying a cup of hot coffee and a juicy gossip session? In general, women often have more close friends and social connections than men. These relationships may lower feelings of anxiety and depression, create higher self-esteem and strengthen the immune system, which could contribute to female longevity. 

Earn a Graduate Credential in Aging from the University of Florida 

Whether you’re already immersed in aging-related professions or seeking to enter the field, the University of Florida offers two entirely online graduate programs that can enhance the skillset needed to advance your career in gerontology: 

Master’s Degree in Gerontology 

This 30-credit online program is ideal for working professionals who are interested in advocating for older adults in a variety of careers, from geriatric nursing to gerontology and so much more.  

Master’s Degree in Medical Physiology and Aging 

If gerontology interests you, but you’re interested in learning more about the human body and keeping your options open for other sectors in healthcare, this online 30-credit program offers the best of both worlds. 

Graduate Certificate in Aging and Geriatric Practice 

If you plan on continuing your graduate studies on the way to applying to medical school, this rigorous online 15-credit program is exactly what you need to give your resume an edge and stand out amongst other grad school applicants. You can also apply all 15 credit hours toward the MS in gerontology or the MS in medical physiology and aging (so long as you are accepted and earn a “B” or higher). 

Enrich your skillset and propel your gerontology career forward with one of these flexible online programs. Apply now to begin your journey toward making a lasting impact in the field of aging.