A new study across 20 countries reveals for the first time just how much bigger the risk of premature death is for men than women, whatever their age. In the US in 1998, for example, men up to the age of 50 were on average twice as likely as women to keel over, and the risk remained greater even for those men who had made it to their eighties and beyond. Less surprisingly, the discrepancy in death rates between men and women was most extreme between the ages of 20 and 24, when three times as many men die as women. "Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death," says Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Nesse says that the finding has important implications for public health. "If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer," he says. Nesse's colleague Daniel Kruger estimates that over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the US if men's risk of dying was as low as women's.
The US data is backed by death rates in countries including Ireland, Australia, Russia, Singapore and El Salvador. Nesse and Kruger found that everywhere they looked, it's more perilous to be male. In Colombia for example, men in their early twenties are five times as likely to die as women of the same age.
Even more surprisingly, the pattern holds for every major cause of death, from car crashes to heart disease to homicide. For external causes of death, such as accidents, the difference between the sexes is greatest for young adults. But the second largest disparity between men and women in the US occurs when they reach their sixties. At that point in their life, men are 1
Contact: Claire Bowles