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Health: Why do women live longer than men?

""Did you know that women live longer than men?" I asked my wife.

Of course she did -- and not just because, like me, she is a physician. Anybody who walks into a nursing home can see the imbalance. Most people's grandmothers outlive their grandfathers, and 85 percent of centenarians are women. So my wife nodded, without paying much attention.

"It isn't really that women are living longer, but men are dying sooner," I persisted. "Among the top 10 causes of death, men have a higher mortality rate than women. Men are four times more likely than women to suffer from cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism." My voice rose a bit dramatically. "Men are dying, and no one is paying attention."

"I never thought of it that way," she said, with a small note of sympathy. But then she caught herself: "You do this to yourselves."

She had a point. Eighty percent of Americans who have a serious drug addiction are men; more than 80 percent of drunk drivers are men; during young adulthood, the peak age for homicide, suicide and accidental death, three men die for every woman. "It's your behavior," my wife said.

That led me to wonder: Are there other, less obviously self-destructive kinds of behavior that contribute to my sex's early mortality? The next morning at hospital rounds, I decided to observe my cases not just as patients, but as male patients or female patients."

Get the Story:
Manoj Jain: Want to Live a Bit Longer? Speak Up. (The Washington Post 2/17)