General Health

Comparing life expectancy rates of women and men

Overview

Women’s health differs from men’s in numerous ways. Women’s health is an example of population health, which the World Health Organization defines as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than the absence of disease or infirmity.” Many groups argue for a broader definition pertaining to women’s overall health, better expressed as “the health of women,” which is often treated as simply women’s reproductive health. These disparities are exacerbated in developing countries, where women’s health, which includes both risks and experiences, is further disadvantaged.

Despite the fact that women in developed countries have narrowed the gender gap in life expectancy and are now living longer than men, in many areas of health they experience earlier and more severe diseases with poorer outcomes. Gender continues to be an important social determinant of health because women’s health is influenced not only by their biology but also by external factors such as poverty, employment, and family responsibilities. Women have long been disadvantaged in many ways, including social and economic power, which limits their access to basic necessities such as health care, and the greater the level of disadvantage, such as in developing countries, the greater the negative impact on health.

How women’s health is different from men’s health

Women’s reproductive and sexual health differs significantly from men’s health. Even in developed countries, pregnancy and childbirth pose significant risks to women, with maternal mortality accounting for more than a quarter-million deaths per year, with significant disparities between developing and developed countries. Other non-reproductive diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, contribute to pregnancy mortality and morbidity, including preeclampsia. Sexually transmitted infections can have serious consequences for women and infants, with mother-to-child transmission resulting in stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and pelvic inflammatory disease tends to result in infertility. In addition to infertility from a variety of causes, birth control, unplanned pregnancy, nonconsensual sexual activity, and the struggle for abortion access all add to women’s burdens.

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While the rates of the leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and lung disease, are significant compared in men and women, women’s experiences differ. Lung cancer has surpassed all other cancers as the leading cause of cancer death in women, followed by breast cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer. While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, the risk of developing cancer is three times higher in nonsmokers than in nonsmokers. Despite this, breast cancer is still the most common cancer in women in developed countries, and it is one of the most important chronic diseases in women, while cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in developing countries, and it is associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), an important sexually transmitted disease. The combination of an HPV vaccine and screening carries the potential of controlling these diseases. Cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, osteoporosis, and anaemia are all serious health concerns for women. Underrepresentation of women in research studies has been a major impediment to advancing women’s health, and this inequity is being addressed in the United States and other Western nations through the establishment of centres of excellence in women’s health research and large-scale clinical trials such as the Women’s Health Initiative.

Life Expectancy

Women have a higher life expectancy than men, and they die at a lower rate throughout their lives, regardless of race or geographic region. Women, on the other hand, have historically had higher rates of mortality, owing primarily to maternal deaths (death in childbirth). Following the industrial revolution, the gender gap narrowed and was reversed in developed countries, particularly the most advanced. Despite these differences, women have earlier and more severe diseases, as well as poorer outcomes, in many areas of health.

Despite these differences, the leading causes of death in the United States for men and women are nearly identical, with heart disease accounting for a quarter of all deaths, followed by cancer, lung disease, and stroke. Women have a higher incidence of dementia than men, despite having a lower incidence of unintentional injury and suicide.

The childbearing years are when women’s life expectancy differs the most between developed and developing countries. If a woman survives this period, the differences between the two regions become less pronounced, because, in later life, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) become the leading causes of death in women worldwide, with cardiovascular deaths accounting for 45 percent of deaths in older women, followed by cancer (15 percent) and lung disease (10 percent) (10 percent ). These place additional strains on developing countries’ resources. Changing lifestyles, such as diet, physical activity, and cultural factors that favour larger body sizes in women, are contributing to an increase in obesity and diabetes among women in these countries, as well as an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease and other NCDs.

Women who are socially marginalised die at a younger age than women who are not. Women with substance abuse disorders, who are homeless, sex workers, or are imprisoned live significantly shorter lives than other women. Women in these overlapping, stigmatised groups are approximately 10 to 13 times more likely to die than typical women of the same age at any given age.

References

1.    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm

2.    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24101779/

3 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29137869/

Author

 Yash Batra

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