For over a century, it has been established that women generally outlive men. However, recent research led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows a major widening of this gap in the United States over the past decade.
Life expectancy difference between American men and women increased to 5.8 years in 2021, the highest since 1996, said the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on November 13.
This marks a notable shift from the smallest gap of 4.8 years recorded in 2010.
“There’s been a lot of research into the decline in life expectancy in recent years, but no one has systematically analysed why the gap between men and women has been widening since 2010,” the paper’s first author, Brandon Yan, MD, MPH, a UCSF internal medicine resident physician and research collaborator at Harvard Chan School, told Science Daily.
What are the contributing factors?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a key driver behind this expanding gender disparity from 2019-2021. Notably, unintentional injuries and poisonings, predominantly related to drug overdoses, along with accidents and suicide, also contributed to this trend.
The pandemic, disproportionately affecting men, played a pivotal role in this trend. The study pointed out that the virus’s toll on men, combined with unintentional injuries and poisonings, significantly influenced the widening gap.
The decline in overall US life expectancy to 76.1 years in 2021, down from 78.8 years in 2019, is attributed in part to “deaths of despair.”
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These include suicides, drug use disorders, and alcoholic liver disease, often linked to economic hardship, depression, and stress.
While death rates from drug overdoses and homicides increased for both genders, men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these fatalities. This raises questions about the need for more specialised care, particularly in mental health, to address the growing life expectancy disparity.
(With inputs from agencies)