A new study suggests that women, across the globe, live longer than men due to differences in heart disease.
According to researchers, the disparity in longevity is a relatively new phenomenon, emerging within the last 150 years.
In the review, researchers discovered significant differences in life expectancies between the sexes first emerged as infectious disease prevention, improved diets, and other positive health behaviors were adopted by people born during the 1800s and early 1900s.
While death rates fell for both genders, women began to reap the benefits of longevity at a much greater rate.
In the wake of this massive but uneven decrease in mortality, a review of global data points to heart disease as the culprit behind most of the excess deaths documented in adult men, said gerontologist Dr. Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California (USC).
“We were surprised at how the divergence in mortality between men and women, which originated as early as 1870, was concentrated in the 50 to 70 age range and faded out sharply after age 80,” Crimmins said.
Research was conducted with Caleb Finch, Ph.D., a USC professor in the neurobiology of aging, and Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, Ph.D., of the Center for Demography of Health and Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It examined the lifespans of people born between 1800 and 1935 in 13 developed nations.
When researched looked at mortality in adults over the age of 40, the team found that in individuals born after 1880, female death rates decreased 70 percent faster than those of males.
Even when the researchers controlled for smoking-related illnesses, cardiovascular disease appeared to still be the cause of the vast majority of excess deaths in adult men over 40 for the same time period. Surprisingly, smoking accounted for only 30 percent of the difference in mortality between the sexes after 1890, Crimmins said.
The uneven impact of cardiovascular illness-related deaths on men, especially during middle and early older age, raises the question of whether men and women face different heart disease risks due to inherent biological risks and/or protective factors at different points in their lives, Finch said.
“Further study could include analysis of diet and exercise activity differences between countries, deeper examination of genetics, and biological vulnerability between sexes at the cell level, and the relationship of these findings to brain health at later ages,” he said.
The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was supported by the National Institute on Aging.