By Sean Zucker —
William Shakespeare had an interesting take on men. The English bard wrote: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” He may be right. But if recent statistics indicate anything, he’d be a dying fool regardless—especially in America. Women have traditionally maintained a slightly longer expected lifespan than men. That gap appears to be growing at an alarming rate in the U.S. because men just can’t out of their way.
Over the last few years, American men have seen their life expectancy plummet to worrying levels. WorldData.info reports that U.S. men, on average, die five years earlier than women. Male-Female life expectancy rates are even starker across the globe.
The independent international research outlet notes that U.S. men not only live shorter lives than their females, but their longevity rates are also way shorter than men in other developed countries. American men live eight years less than in rich countries such as Japan, Norway, and Australia. What’s more troubling—these stats were collected in 2020 and don’t even cover the full scope of Covid’s influence.
Since men represented a much larger percentage of Covid-related deaths, their longevity rates have declined further since 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that men accounted for roughly 54 percent of Covid-19 deaths, while women accounted for 45 percent. It occurred even though there was no real difference in case rates, considering that women make up a slightly higher percentage of the population (51 percent), and the male death toll is even more daunting.
So, what’s to blame? A recent Harvard study may hold some answers. The researchers started tracking the data early, covering the 55 weeks from April 2020 to May 2021. The university investigated Covid case rates and deaths across all 50 states and confirmed men were more likely to meet a fatal conclusion after contracting the virus. However, the possible causes for the higher death rate transcend simple biology.
On a Covid-specific level, men are more likely incarcerated or experience homelessness, and both vastly increase the risk of virus exposure. The study also reported that men were less likely to wash their hands adequately, wear a mask in public, or be vaccinated. These shortcomings leave the gender more susceptible to meeting a Covid-related demise.
“You can’t attribute observations about things like mortality from a complex disease like Covid and say it’s all biology,” Sabra Klein, a microbiologist and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Women’s Health, Sex and Gender Research told The New York Times when reflecting on the study. “But I also don’t think you can say it’s all social and it’s all behavioral, either.”
Unsurprisingly, two other major contributing factors exist at the intersection of biology and behavior. The CDC reports men are more likely to suffer from heart disease—a condition tied to both genetics and poor health behaviors. Additionally, the CDC notes that men are similarly more likely to have diabetes.
Other experts agree that the cause is a combination of biology and behavior. One is Dr. Perminder Sachdev, a professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “This gender gap in life expectancy is true for all societies, and it is also true for the great apes,” he told Time. As someone with a history of studying human longevity, Sachdev admits life expectancy can still be affected by a mirage of traditionally masculine habits.
“Men are more likely to smoke, drink excessively and be overweight,” he added. “They are also less likely to seek medical help early, and, if diagnosed with a disease, they are more likely to be non-adherent to treatment.” Beyond that, Dr. Sachdev notes men are more likely to take life-threatening risks and die in car accidents or gun fights.
The takeaway? Man up, be safer and trust your doctors.