Let’s start with the main thing: WHO does not indicate either the only or even the main reason for such a significant difference in life expectancy. Instead, the organization’s report presents three factors that contribute to higher mortality rates among men than among women:
- heart diseases,
- injuries as a result of road traffic accidents,
- lungs’ cancer.
And some of the reasons are directly related to psychological characteristics or mental health, says Oaklenburg.
For example, road traffic injuries reduce life expectancy for men by 0.47 years compared with women. This can be partially explained by the fact that more men work in the transport industry, but on the other hand – and this is empirically proven – men are more likely to drive aggressively, putting themselves and those around them at risk.
An analysis of studies of gender differences in driving behavior showed that men are more likely to drive drunk, show aggression, and react too late to traffic accidents (compared to women).
Let’s take another common cause of death – cirrhosis of the liver. It caused a 0.27 year reduction in life expectancy in men compared to women. Although it is a physical illness, one of its main causes is alcoholic beverage disorder. Based on data from the United States, Sebastian Oaklenburg emphasizes that alcohol consumption statistics vary greatly depending on gender.
As for our country, Russia is one of the three leading countries in terms of mortality due to alcohol. In the Russian Federation, 43 thousand women and 180 thousand men died due to alcohol abuse in 2016 alone1… Why do men drink more often? Firstly, the point is in the usual way of socialization and in the fact that the ability to consume alcohol in large quantities is valued among men. Second, the later maturation of certain areas of the brain is probably to blame. Finally, you shouldn’t discount your lower sensitivity to alcohol.
Interpersonal violence leads to a decrease in life expectancy for men by 0.21 years compared with women. According to a WHO report, men die from murder four times more often. At the same time, women are more likely to become victims of domestic violence – about one in five murders is committed by a partner or family member (although on the streets men are much more likely to kill other men).
Based on data from another study, Oaklenburg believes this is likely due to higher levels of physical aggression and violence in men.
The dire consequences of gender stereotypes
Another factor that, according to WHO, contributes to gender differences in mortality is self-harm: although women have more thoughts about suicide and they make more attempts, in fact, it is men who kill themselves more often (on average, 1.75 times).
The exact reasons for the huge gender gap in suicide rates are not fully understood, comments Oaklenburg: “One of the key factors that psychiatric research has identified is that society is overly demanding on men. In many cultures, there is still an unspoken social prohibition against expressing negative emotions and referring to a psychotherapist, even when suicidal thoughts or depression appear. In addition, widespread “self-medication” with alcohol can significantly worsen a man’s condition. “
Although physical illness remains the main cause of gender differences in mortality, mental health problems also lead to shorter life expectancies in men. This is why it is so important to encourage them to seek mental health support and professional help.
1. “Russia entered the top three in mortality from alcohol.” Olga Solovieva, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 09/05/2018.
About the expert: Sebastian Aucklenburg is a biopsychologist.
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