TAKING CARE OF ONE ANOTHER
We all know that women live longer than men. In Russia the difference is 11
years, the biggest in the world. In the United States and most countries of
western Europe, it is about five years.
What you may not know is how robust women’s better survival prospects are.
Women survive longer than men in the longest-lived countries and in
countries where poverty and disease make modern life expectancy
depressingly short. Women survived better than men during some history’s
world’s worse famines and disease epidemics. They survive better during
childhood, adulthood, and in old age.
This is not due to women’s resistance to one or a few specific diseases of
aging. Women die at substantially lower rates from 8 of the 10 top causes of
death in the US. A ninth major cause (stroke) is evenly split among the sexes.
Alzheimer’s disease is the only leading cause of death affecting women more
Human sex differences in aging and longevity may have been too common to
be noticed, and so escaped the serious attention of scientists until recently.
But then came a host of discoveries of medications that improved the health
and increased the longevity of laboratory mice. Some of these are close to
starting trials in people. What made scientists sit up and finally take notice is
that of the six drugs that have clearly been shown to extend health in mice,
four helped only males, one helped males much more than females, and
another dramatically improved the health and longevity of females with a
much smaller effect in males.
Scientists are now scrabbling to try to understand how these sex differences
The Health-Longevity Paradox
Yes, women live longer than men everywhere and at all times, but a real
puzzle about their better survival is that women suffer from more long-term
medical problems than men, particularly later in life. Women make more
doctor visits than men. They are more often hospitalized, take more
medications, and more often require long-term care than men. This is true
even if you factor out their longer lives. But when you combine their greater
need for medical services with their longer lives, you get not only a scientific
paradox (which researchers are working on furiously), but also a potentially
serious financial burden on surviving spouses. Adding one more level to this
potential financial bind, in more than half of all marriages, the man is at least 2
years older than the wife; in one of eight marriages, the man is at least 6
These unfortunate biological facts may one day bend to advances in medical
research, but for now starkly illustrate the need for financial planning. **