As soon as I was born, I was already destined to die earlier than half the babies in my maternity ward – a curse that I can do little to avoid. The reason? My gender.
What is it about being a man that means I am likely to die younger than the women around me? And is it possible for me to break the curse of my gender? Although this puzzling divide has been known for decades, it is only recently that scientists have started coming close to some answers.
One early idea was that men work themselves into an early grave. Whether working in a mine or ploughing the land, they put extra stress on their bodies and amass injuries that catch up with them later in life. Yet if that were the case, you might expect the gap to be closing, as both men and women converge on the same, sedentary jobs.
Factors such as smoking, drinking, and overeating may partly explain why size of the gender gap varies so widely between countries. But the fact is that female chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons also consistently outlive the males of the group, and you do not see apes – male or female – with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and beer glasses in their hands
“Of course, social and lifestyle factors do have a bearing, but there does appear to be something deeply engrained in our biology,” says Tom Kirkwood, who studies the biological basis for ageing at Newcastle University in the UK.
An example would be the “jogging female heart” hypothesis – the idea that a woman’s heart rate increases during the second half of the menstrual cycle, offering the same benefits as moderate exercise. The result is delayed risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
But perhaps the true reason lies in the testosterone that drives most other male characteristics, from deeper voices and hairier chests to balding crowns. Evidence from the Imperial Court of the Chosun Dynasty in Korea suggested Eunuchs were 130 times more likely to celebrate their hundredth birthday than the average man living in Korea at the time. Even the kings – who were the most pampered people in the palace – did not come close.
The exact reasons remain elusive however the outlined is something to shout about. Excerpt from David Robson BBC Until we speak again, I am your host Mitchell Odhiambo. Welcome to a man’s world To get a female perspective on this, please click HERE to read my colleague Lillian’s views.