Friday, October 26, 2007

Who lives longer and why?

Discussion Topic Number 2: Article in the Economist claims that females live longer than males because males use up all their energy attracting, competing for, and hanging onto their women. That's the way it is in the animal kingdom, the article suggests, so that's gotta be the reason for the same in the human race. My response to a friend who sent me the article follows. Anyone else have anything to add?

So, the point is that women live longer than men because men use up all their energy chasing, and keeping, their women?!?
Apparently that's what we have learned by studying the animal kingdom, although for this specific subject animals represent an imperfect test group. Thus, the leaders of the study discussed in the economist feel that to prove the hypothesis they need to take those lessons learned from the animal kingdom and apply them to a test group that generally dies of old age, namely us. If humans show a trend whereby women outlive men, then it is somehow inverse proof that this is a relic of our animal ancestry.
To prove their hypothesis scientifically, the next step should be to look at specific subsets of our human test group. We should compare generations of men who have married early and lived family life without much challenge (with respect to "defending" their women) from society, to generations of men who remained single longer, competed for a fair number of partners and so on. If there is a definitive age discrepancy between these subsets, then we may have something to help support their hypothesis.
Still, my guess is that in both groups men would still die younger, and at about the same average age. Why? Well if it's strictly a matter of we humans being animals, as put forward by the study, then it's simply "built in" and has nothing to do with our day to day lives as human beings.
I think that's bollocks. In my opinion there are two major factors as to why women outlive men:
1) physiology - Women's bodies are built to last longer than men's. Call it the child rearing factor.
2) life style - Men are dumb testosterone filled pigs. Many more of us are killed off in our teens trying to ride our bikes or cars over canyons. How many Darwin awards have you read that were about women? If we live through our teens, men tend to drink, eat poorly and generally take part in unhealthy activities to a much higher degree than our female counterparts, and we do it for many, many years. Just compare how long men spend on the toilet on a Sunday morning compared to women (and the lingering odors that follow) and you'll "catch my drift". Add up all that abuse on the male body and later in life it spells heart attack, stroke or whatever other ailment that finally does him in.
If there is any difference between the two male groups discussed earlier, it is probably that the longer one remains single, the more opportunity he has to do irreparable harm to his body, and perhaps that could lead to a slightly lower life expectancy. Now that's worth studying, although I suspect slinking out to the shed to avoid yet another badgering barrage from the spouse probably leads to some harmful habits as well, which would tend to even things out.
Either way, when it comes to the life expectancy competition, men don't stand a chance. Whether or not males in the animal kingdom exhibit the same pattern, perhaps due to competition for mates, really has no bearing. However, if we change the rules a little in our human test group, and call it a FUN competition, we men may actually come out ahead...