June Is Men’s Health Month

Why don’t men live as long as women? The lifespan gap between American women and men stands at 5 years (with notable differences based on race, though women of any race, on average, outlive all men).

The lifespan gap was only 1 year in 1920, peaking at almost 8 years in the late 1970s. I created this graph based on numbers from UC Berkeley‘s and Infoplease.com‘s compilation of CDC data:

lifespan graph

The recent increase in men’s life expectancy is largely due to today’s men smoking much less than their fathers did. Men born after World War II are also more likely to eat right and exercise.

But will men ever catch up to women? Probably not, but the lifespan gap can be smaller than it is.

Males are at great risk right from the get go. Slightly more births are male. But overall 49% of the population is male due to the greater number of elderly women. Because a roughly 50/50 male/female balance is optimal for survival, evolution appears to have selected for a slightly higher number of male births to create an equal male/female ratio by puberty.

Added to that are cultural factors. Men are greater risk takers, which results in greater successes and greater failures. The Department of Labor finds that 92% of workplace deaths are male because men do the most dangerous jobs such as oil rig, police, and fire work. And war most severely affects men, whether they choose to be in that situation or not. 97.5% of American fatalities in the Iraq War were male.

Men also prioritize women’s health over their own. Though elected and appointed government officials are overwhelmingly men, there is no US governmental offcie of men’s health, though the Office of Women’s Health has existed since 1991. Though prostate cancer kills two-thirds as many men as breast cancer kills women, breast cancer receives almost 3 times as much government funding.

In the past medical research was conducted almost exclusively on men and generalized to women, in part because the research of yesteryear was more dangerous (and medical ethics less developed), and men wanted to spare women from that danger. But it resulted in notable failures to understand women’s health. Medical science has worked to rectify this in recent decades.

But men’s health, in the sense of health issues unique to men, has not been studied to the same extent as women’s health has.

Men have shown a willingness to focus more on health in their personal lives, but we have not done so in our public or political lives. This is the next frontier in men’s health.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

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