Why men often die earlier than women

A man passed out on a table from drinking too much alcohol (Photo by: Pixabay, Free Stock Images)

Death visits men before women.

Men, on average, die about five years earlier than women. Men’s behavior plays a huge role in why they tend to die younger, said Ronald Levant, a professor of psychology at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Some men who endorse and conform to “traditional masculine norms” have higher mortality rates. These norms include avoiding all things feminine, restricting the expression of emotions, dominance, extreme self-reliance and toughness. These “traditional” men also place a great deal of importance on sexuality and tend to have negative attitudes toward sexual minorities, Levant said.

“The norms of masculinity are something every boy and man in our society has to contend with because they are out there, they are promoted,” he said.

Baron Rogers, a Ph.D. psychology student at the University of Akron, recently completed a research study on African American men’s concepts of masculinity. He found out that these men embraced “traditional western masculine norms” that were hindered by the systemic barriers of racism.

The percentages represent the total deaths in the group due to the causes indicated. (Photo by: Alyssa Schlitzer/Arizona Sonora News Service) Data: CDC website

These norms include leadership, mental toughness, physical strength, self-definition, structural oppression and African American values, such as religion, spirituality and education.

“African American men and other men who adhere to traditional notions of masculinity are more likely to be restrictive emotionally and not show pain,” Rogers said. “Men in general are not supposed to seek out help and must be able to handle issues on their own. However, some issues that men face require professional treatment relating to mental and physical health.” 

Rogers also said women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men. But men are four times more likely to commit suicide successfully because they tend to have a more aggressive nature.

Some men rely on self-reliance, and those who do, are less likely to visit the doctor because they want to avoid being vulnerable. They do not want to nullify their masculinity by showing weakness or seeking professional help from a doctor or psychologist, Levant said.

The men who conform to these norms vary greatly. It is inversely related to socioeconomic status. The lower the status and education level, the stronger the endorsement of these norms is, Levant said.

“Boys who live in neighborhoods where people endorse these norms, and think it is the way men have to be, tend to get socialized to conform to them,” he said.

Experts say some men are more likely to die from smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and making worse lifestyle choices than women. 

Jane Mohler, a professor in the Arizona Center on Aging at the UA (Photo: Courtesy of the University of Arizona Department of Medicine website)

Jane Mohler, a professor in the Arizona Center on Aging at the University of Arizona, said men die earlier than women because of lifestyle choices. This includes smoking cigarettes and having poor diets, which can lead to long-term chronic illnesses.

Tobacco is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarettes kill more than 480,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Levant said some men are much more likely to smoke than women, which can lead to lung cancer and heart disease. They also die more often than women from accidents because they tend to take part in more “risky behaviors.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing 321,000 men in 2013, according to the CDC website.

Women have protective hormones on board, such as estrogen, and when they go through menopause it takes several years longer for them to catch up with men’s heart attack risk. This is a reason why men tend to die earlier from heart-related diseases, according to Mohler.

Men are also four times more likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol-use disorder than women and also perpetrate 87 percent of the violent crimes in the U.S., according to Levant.

“Part of the traditional code of masculinity is being able to hold liquor,” Levant said.

Although, Levant said he has seen big changes in the way men express emotion and affection, some men today are less likely to conform to traditional masculine norms.

“Overtime, I have seen some real changes in men, particularly in the millennial generation who have become fathers,” he said. “There have been big changes in the way young fathers feel very comfortable providing total care for their children. That is a dramatic change from what it was like in the 60s.”

Mohler said that survival rates in the United States have decreased greatly compared to Scandinavian, Asian and European countries. One reason for this is because the lack of health care in the U.S. is associated with health disparities, high infant mortality and less chronic disease risk prevention and care.

“In those countries where the survival rate is longer, the men and women may survive closer together than those in the United States,” she said.

Mohler said another reason for the low survival rate in the U.S. is because of the political system. It is susceptible to industry pressure and for-profit motives rather than evidence-based health decisions. She cited the tobacco industry, soft drink and sugar industry, high fat and refined cards risks, prohibitive costs of medication and negative environmental exposures.

“Other countries use taxation, restrict commercials and avoid school-based industry support,” Mohler said. “All of this adds up to increased health risk factors such as obesity, inactivity and poor diets.”

Alyssa Schlitzer is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at alyssaschlitzer@email.arizona.edu

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