Sunday, April 30, 2006

Male longevity. According to a story in today's New York Times, men are closing the longevity gap. According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics, women now have a life expectancy of 80.4, up from 80.1. Male life expectancy is 75.2, up from 74.8. The longevity gap between men and women, which had been as great as eight years two decades ago, is now down to five years and may disappear entirely in 50 years. We have certainly experienced the longevity gap in my family. My dad died when he was 58 and my mom lived to be 91. She had a long widowhood. The Times article focused on the impact on the lifestyle of the elderly, at home an in care facilities. It noted
Marriage lowers everyone's risk of death, Professor Lee said, but the benefits go mostly to men; women lower their risk only slightly by marrying. Similarly, a man's risk of death increases sharply after the death of a spouse; a wife's does only negligibly.

"Women are very helpful for men," he said. "Men are not very helpful for women as spouses."

Women not only do fine despite a spouse's death, they may even do better.

"In married couples, women tend to be the ones who manage the social sphere," said Laura L. Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Life-span Development Laboratory there. "They're the ones who make dinner plans and invite friends over for weekends. So a man loses a social network, whereas a woman continues to make plans and see people."

People have traditionally felt sorry for older widows, thinking they had so few prospects for remarrying, she said. The truth is, they may not want to remarry.

"They're the ones taking care of everyone; they've often taken care of a frail husband, and doing it again isn't necessarily appealing."

The article quoted a Connecticut woman in her 70s "retorting" to her husband during a discussion about whether they were ready to move to an assisted-living facility, "You've had assisted living for 40 years." That's a great line. For the men in my community, all of whom are married to working spouses, helping with housework is a fact of life. However, the article is right when it mentions that women handle the social sphere. This is probably genetic, since our species arose as hunter-gatherers where the men roamed about acquiring food.


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