Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Gender Gap

Female centenarians outnumber males by a 9:1 ratio. The longest documented life was that of a French woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at age 122. And throughout most of the world, women, on average, live longer than men. Some researchers say it is estrogen that gives women the longevity edge. Others theorize that menstruation and systems related to childbirth better equip women to rid their bodies of toxins. Women also tend to be more social than men, and social connections are believed to be critical to weathering old age.

Yet the men who reach their 100th birthday are, on the whole, healthier than the women. They are far less likely to have dementia or other serious medical problems. Thomas Perls, head of the New England Centenarian Study, calls these men “aging uperstars.”

Longevity statistics favoring women suggest that there may be some protective genes lurking on the X chromosome, the sex chromosome that women have two copies of and men
only one. Another possibility: genetics are relatively neutral but social conditions favor long life for women.

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