The Gap in Lifespan Grows Between Men and Women

Crepuscular Old ManMen are coming up short in life expectancy. In fact, the gap in lifespan between men and women is now the widest it has been in three decades. Why? The short answer is COVID. But the truth is that it is more than just COVID. The pandemic took more lives from men because their underlying health status made them more vulnerable, if only slightly. Brandon Yan and colleagues have a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine that explores this phenomenon. They explain some of the factors in play:

“Men experienced higher COVID-19 death rates for likely multifactorial reasons, including higher burden of comorbidities and differences in health behaviors and socioeconomic factors, such as labor force participation, incarceration, and homelessness. Differentially worsening mortality from diabetes, heart disease, homicide, and suicide suggest that chronic metabolic disease and mental illness may also contribute. The increase in overdose deaths, homicide, and suicide underscores twin crises of deaths from despair and firearm violence.”

Deaths of Despair and Disparities

The growing disparity in lifespan between men and women tracks well with growing differences in advanced education. Anne Case and Angus Deaton write that growing deaths of despair (a concept they have done much to advance) can be traced to gaps in advanced education:

“These gaps, between those with and without a BA, are widening across a range of life outcomes that we have reason to care about, not just mortality, but also morbidity – including many kinds of pain – as well as in marriage rates, out-of-wedlock childbearing, religious observance, institutional attachments, and in wages and participation in employment.”

Obesity and metabolic disease is part of this story, but not the whole story. We suspect that the real story lies with diminished social connections and prospects for wealthy, healthy, and happy lives.

To close growing gaps in lifespan will require closing gaps in the prospects for rewarding lives.

Click here for the study in JAMA Internal Medicine. For further perspective, click here, here, and here.

Crepuscular Old Man, painting by Salvador Dali / WikiArt

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November 21, 2023