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To live longer, men need to embrace their femininity, new research suggests

13938506188_faea591a9b_z (1)Scores of scholars have examined a fundamental truth of our time: Women live longer than men. But why?

After poring over data spanning centuries and continents, a team of Stanford researchers has discovered an overlooked aspect of that disparity. When there's plenty to go around, the gap between men and women shrinks. But when adversity strikes, men die young.

And in cultures where women excel — racking up academic, professional and extracurricular accomplishments equalling or topping men — men live longer too, said Mark Cullen, MD, the first author of the recently published study that also appears in an abridged, reader-friendly form on Vox.

"The punchline is feminism is good for men too," Cullen said.

The team posits that women are hard-wired to protect each other, an ingrained trait that goes beyond hormones and isn't culturally dependent.

The researcher's primary conclusion — that socio-economic stress hits men harder than women — is solid. Cullen and team looked at societies worldwide, finding that in poorer nations women live about 10 years longer than men, while in the United States the gap is closer to five years. When a social safety net is pulled out suddenly, such as following the fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe, the lifespan of men dropped nearly 15 years, Cullen said.

"Men were just dropping like flies. But that didn't happen to women," he said.

The team posits that women are hard-wired to protect each other, an ingrained trait that goes beyond hormones and isn't culturally dependent.

"Women live differently," Cullen said. "They seek each other, invest heavily in family and nurturing, which men do much less of. That’s the secret sauce — women have each other and this incredible support network."

As women enter the workforce, and men invest in family relationships and social networks, the lifespan gap begins to lessen. "It's the feminization of the way that men live that helps men," he said.

As evidence, the team points to Alaska and highly developed Asian nations such as Japan and Korea. There, female lifespans far surpass male's, probably because despite their economic success, their cultures embrace traditional gender roles. "These are places where men are men, and they die like men," Cullen said.

Next, the team plans to continue their inquiry by investigating the hypothesis that equality helps men and search for policy programs that also boost men's lifespans.

Cullen directs the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences. His co-authors include Michael Baiocchi, PhD, assistant professor in the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences; Karen Eggleston, PhD, director of the Asia Health Policy Program; Victor Fuchs, PhD, Henry J. Kaiser Professor, emeritus, of economics and of health research and policy; and statistician Pooja Loftus, MS.

Previously: "Are we there yet?" Exploring the promise, and the hype, of longevity research, Living loooooooonger: A conversation on longevity and Social factors better indicators of premature mortality than skin color or geography
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