Biological Explanations: Biological differences in sex chromosomes and different pattern of gene expression is theorized as one reason why females live longer (Chmielewski, Boryslawski, & Strzelec, 2016). Males are heterogametic (XY), whereas females are homogametic (XX) with respect to the sex chromosomes. Males can only express their X chromosome genes that come from the mother, while females have an advantage by selecting the “better” X chromosome from their mother or father, while inactivating the “worse” X chromosome. This process of selection for “better” genes is impossible in males and results in the greater genetic and developmental stability of females. In terms of developmental biology, women are the “default” sex, which means that the creation of a male individual requires a sequence of events at a molecular level. According to Chmilewski et al. (2016):
These events are initiated by the activity of the SRY gene located on the Y chromosome. This activity and change in the direction of development results in a greater number of disturbances and developmental disorders, because the normal course of development requires many different factors and mechanisms, each of which must work properly and at a specific stage of the development. (p. 134)
Men are more likely to contract viral and bacterial infections, and their immunity at the cellular level decreases significantly faster with age. Although women are slightly more prone to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the gradual deterioration of the immune system is slower in women (Caruso, Accardi, Virruso, & Candore, 2013; Hirokawa et al., 2013).
Looking at the influence of hormones, estrogen levels in women appear to have a protective effect on their heart and circulatory systems (Viña, Borrás, Gambini, Sastre, & Pallardó, 2005). Estrogens also have antioxidant properties that protect against harmful effects of free radicals, which damage cell components, cause mutations, and are in part responsible for the aging process. Testosterone levels are higher in men than in women, and are related to more frequent cardiovascular and immune disorders. The level of testosterone is also responsible, in part, for male behavioral patterns, including increased level of aggression and violence (Martin, Poon, & Hagberg, 2011; Borysławski & Chmielewski, 2012). Another factor responsible for risky behavior is the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe, which controls judgment and consideration of an action’s consequences, develops more slowly in boys and young men. This lack of judgment affects lifestyle choices, and consequently many more boys and men die by smoking, excessive drinking, accidents, drunk driving, and violence (Shmerling, 2016).
Lifestyle Factors: Certainly not all the reasons women live longer than men are biological. As previously mentioned, male behavioral patterns and lifestyle play a significant role in the shorter lifespans for males. One significant factor is that males work in more dangerous jobs, including police, fire fighters, and construction, and they are more exposed to violence. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2014) there were 11,961 homicides in the U.S. in 2014 (last year for full data) and of those 77% were males. Males are also more than three times as likely to commit suicide (CDC, 2016a). Further, males serve in the military in much larger numbers than females. According to the Department of Defense (2015), in 2014 83% of all officers in the Services (Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force) were male, while 85% of all enlisted service members were male.
Additionally, men are less likely than women to have health insurance, develop a regular relationship with a doctor, or seek treatment for a medical condition (Scott, 2015). As mentioned in the middle adulthood chapter, women are more religious than men, which is associated with healthier behaviors (Greenfield, Vaillant & Marks, 2009). Lastly, social contact is also important as loneliness is considered a health hazard. Nearly 20% of men over 50 have contact with their friends less than once a month, compared to only 12% of women who see friends that infrequently (Scott, 2015). Overall, men’s lower life expectancy appears to be due to both biological and lifestyle factors.