News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
Before COVID-19, news on the street was life expectancy in the U.S. was at an all-time high. Most of us have heard women generally outlive men. Among people over 100 years old, 85% of them are women.
However, according to a recent statement issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2020 U.S. life expectancy experienced the largest decline since World War II. Health officials believe COVID-19 is responsible for close to 74% of the decline with over 3.3 million Americans dying last year.
A 2017 report put life expectancy for men at 76.1 years, with the life expectancy of women at 81.1 years. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the life expectancy for women is projected to reach 87.3 years by 2060, compared with 83.9 for men. This all before the pandemic impacted lives far more seriously than any other disease in recent history.
Putting the impacts of COVID-19 aside, men are biologically at a disadvantage from the time they are conceived to the day they die. For years, researchers ascribed this to lifestyle differences. With the emerging field of geroscience, or the study of aging, researchers are discovering there are genetic and biological factors accounting for the gap.
Some reasons can be attributed to behavior patterns. Women are more likely to see a physician when they are sick. Psychologist Katharine Esty, who interviewed 128 people in their 80s, found aging women tend to put more effort towards staying healthy. Men are more likely to be non-adherent to treatment once diagnosed.
Lifestyle and behavior differences only account for so much. According to David Sinclair, co-director of Harvard Medical School’s Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging research, some attribute it to the fact men are more likely to smoke, drink, work more physical jobs and become overweight. Women are less likely to be daredevils. According to the CDC, unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death in men, and the sixth for women. Perhaps because the frontal lobes of the brain, which tracks responsibility and risk control, develops more slowly in men than women.
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research studied the blood of men and women between 65 and 95. He found men’s protein levels changed at higher rates than women’s, meaning that female biology appears to be more stable than in males.
A study by Georgetown University showed a person’s gender may influence memory, the ability to recall specific events, or where an item was left. Women and men scored similarly until age 70 at which point a significant advantage emerged for women.
Wall Street journalist Clare Ansberry reported gender was also a factor when diagnosed with COVID-19. A recent study found after age 65, men lose antibody producing B cells in their blood. Women did not experience this same loss.
Scientists believe that estrogen in women combats conditions such as heart disease by helping to reduce circulatory levels of harmful cholesterol. A woman’s extra years tend to be healthy ones as they live longer without a major disease or injury. Testosterone, on the other hand, may decrease immune factors in men and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Women are certainly at risk for many health challenges including COVID-19, but while they may still struggle to achieve equality in many spheres of life, in the area of health, they seem to dominate.
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