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Living Longer, But Living Well? Why the Gender Gap in Health Needs a Rethink

2 min read

It’s no secret that women tend to outlive men. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), males live up to 69 years of age while females generally reach 74 on average. But does a longer life automatically translate to a better life?

This question gets to the heart of the complex relationship between gender and longevity. There are undeniable advantages to living longer: you have more time to spend with loved ones, pursue passions, and experience all life has to offer. However, the quality of those extra years can vary greatly.

According to a new study, men may experience a greater degree of health loss and have a higher burden of diseases that lead to premature death, but women suffer more pathologies that impair their quality of life in later life.

A major research article published in The British Medical Journal, which analyzed health data across decades, confirmed this, too. While women did live longer, they also experienced higher levels of non-fatal illnesses throughout their lives. This means women might spend more years battling chronic conditions that can significantly impact their well-being.

Why this difference? Biological factors likely play a role. Women’s hormonal makeup, particularly estrogen, may offer some protection against heart disease. However, social and behavioural factors are just as crucial.

Our World In Data’ states that Men are more likely to engage in risky behaviours like smoking and alcohol abuse, which contribute to early mortality. Additionally, societal pressures often lead men to delay seeking medical attention, further impacting their health outcomes.

Women are more susceptible to chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis, which can limit mobility and independence later in life. Additionally, the social safety net often leaves women facing greater financial insecurity in retirement, particularly those who were caregivers or took career breaks for family.

SEE ALSO:  The Importance Of Taking A Break

Men, on the other hand, face a higher risk of dying young from accidents, violence, and risky behaviours. But for those who do reach old age, a lack of preventative healthcare and a reluctance to seek help can lead to poorer health outcomes.

So, what does it mean to “live better?” Perhaps it’s a balance between quantity and quality of life. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Shifting Priorities: As we age, our priorities change. Physical strength may become less important, while social connection and emotional well-being take center stage. Healthcare systems need to adapt to these changing needs and offer gender-specific services.
  • Closing the Health Gap: Encouraging preventative healthcare for both genders, particularly men, is crucial. Additionally, addressing the social determinants of health, like economic security and access to healthy food, will benefit everyone.
  • Redefining Retirement: Retirement shouldn’t be a cliff dive into inactivity. Promoting lifelong learning, volunteer opportunities, and flexible work arrangements can make later years more fulfilling for both men and women.

Ultimately, living a long and good life is about more than just gender. It’s about creating a society that supports healthy living at all stages, dismantles gender stereotypes, and empowers everyone to reach their full potential, regardless of age or sex.

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