• wealthspan author

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

than men.


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

work.


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

years older.


These unfortunate biological facts may one day bend to advances in medical

research, but for now starkly illustrate the need for financial planning. **

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