Why Do Women Outlive Men?

October 5, 2010

An interesting article by Peeter Hõrak, Professor at the University of Tartu (Estonia), explaining his view on the reasons wehy women live, on average, a longer life than most men.

On average, Estonian women outlive men by 11 years – but why? Sociologists and demographers point to self-destructive behaviours in men, as well as their greater risk of contracting heart disease, but they overlook the underlying causes of these woes.

Since the human lifespan is a result of evolution, providing an explanation for its variability belongs to the domain of natural sciences, more specifically to evolutionary psychology and behavioural ecology. I will try to explain this phenomenon in the discussion which follows.

The theory of sexual selection maintains that the sex that invests more in offspring (almost always the female) cannot reproduce as fast and thus becomes a limited resource to the other sex. This results in a situation in which fertile females are outnumbered by males interested in mating, and therefore, females have an opportunity to be choosy in selecting mates.

At the same time, this situation creates a basis for mating competition amongst males – when there is a shortage of females, each male can increase his reproductive success only at the expense of other males.

Mating competition between males comes in two forms: On the one hand, they have to compete amongst themselves for access to potential mating partners; on the other hand, they need to prove their quality as breeding partners to the opposite sex.

Besides explaining mating and patterns regarding choice of mate, the theory of sexual selection provides explanations as to why men and women differ in their ways of feeling and thinking, their consuming habits, health status, causes of mortality, and life span.

Men and women have evolved to solve different problems in the context of reproduction and mating. The shorter lifespan of men is an inevitable result of their competition-based reproductive strategy.

Here we are dealing with a vicious circle: In order to attract women men have to compete with each other for authority, status and material resources. The chances of both winning and losing in this game are greater for men, as their reproductive success varies more than that of women. This is why men are programmed to behave in a riskier manner than women.

A risk-prone lifestyle inevitably entails higher male mortality due to accidents, violence and infectious diseases (testosterone, the male sex hormone that induces ‘macho’ behaviour, is immunosuppressive, which in turn causes greater susceptibility to many infectious diseases in males).

You can read the rest of the article on http://blog.ut.ee/why-do-women-outlive-men/

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