Women biologically stronger than men, more likely to survive life-threatening crisis

Laverne Higgins
January 10, 2018

Researchers from Duke University and the University of Southern Denmark analysed data from seven populations who had an average life expectancy of less than 20 years. "Among them were working and former slaves in Trinidad and the United States in the early 1800s, starvation victims in Sweden, Ireland and Ukraine in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and Icelanders affected by the 1846 and 1882 measles epidemics", Duke University mentioned in their report.

It's common knowledge that the life expectancy of women in most parts of the world is significantly higher than that of the opposite gender.

And it's a trend that's reflected across the world, in nearly all countries.

The new study's lead author, Professor Virginia Zarulli, wrote in the journal PNAS: "The conditions experienced by the people in the analysed populations were horrific".

At the height of the crisis, that number dropped to a staggering 18.17 for men - but fell slightly less significantly to 22.4 for women.

They found that in all populations "women had lower mortality across nearly all ages, and, with the exception of one slave population, they lived longer on average than men".

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Even though the crises reduced the female survival advantage in life expectancy, women still survived better than men.

The researchers said a woman's maternal instinct could prove life-saving, noting tales of mums taking extreme measures to ensure they and their little ones survive.

Based on these findings, the academics concluded, "The hypothesis that the survival advantage of women has fundamental biological underpinnings is supported by the fact that under very harsh conditions females survive better than males even at infant ages when behavioral and social differences may be minimal or favor males". Estrogens, for example, have been shown to enhance the body's immune defenses against infectious disease. Testosterone has been linked to an increased risk in heart failure, the study noted. Men are more likely to be heavy smokers and drinkers, for example.

Prof Zarulli's team examined the freeing of American slaves back to Liberia between 1820 and 1843 - the deadliest event in recorded human history. Overall, 43 percent of ex-slaves who were encouraged by the USA government to migrate to Liberia died within their first year in Africa because their immune systems were exposed to new diseases.

Across modern populations, women outlive men in nearly all instances, with life expectancy for English women being 83.1 years, compared to 79.5 years for men (the figure for Scotland is 81.2 years for women and 77.1 years for men).

Life expectancy for baby boys was 1.68 years, compared to 2.23 years for infant girls.

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