When the going gets tough, women are more resilient than men

Kenny Tucker
January 10, 2018

In nearly all modern populations, women can expect to outlive men - in some cases, by as much as five or six years.

Led by Virginia Zarulli, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark, and James Vaupel, a research professor at Duke University, the team analyzed mortality data going back roughly 250 years for people whose lives were cut short by starvation, disease or other misfortunes.

Data from the famines studied showed that life expectancies dropped considerably for both sexes, but women still lived longer.

A new study found that women are actually more likely to survive in times of starvation, or epidemics. The data also included victims of starvation in Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the casualties of measles epidemics in 1846 and 1882 in Iceland.

When life expectancy increased, women still outlived men by an average of between six months and four years.

"Most of the female advantage was due to differences in mortality among infants: baby girls were able to survive harsh conditions better than baby boys", the study, led by Professor Virginia Zarulli and Professor James Vaupel, concluded.

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"In all populations, they had lower mortality across nearly all ages, and, with the exception of one slave population, they lived longer on average than men".

Researchers from Duke University and the University of Southern Denmark analysed data from seven populations who had an average life expectancy of less than 20 years. Overall, 43 percent of ex-slaves who were encouraged by the United States government to migrate to Liberia died within their first year in Africa because their immune systems were exposed to new diseases. Life expectancy plummeted by more than 15 years.

When it comes to survival in the most extreme conditions women really are the strongest sex, a study of famines, epidemics and slavery has found.

Meanwhile during the Irish potato starvation in 1845 women once again outlived their male counterparts.

Male and female sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, could play a role.

They added: 'In all populations, they had lower mortality across nearly all ages, and, with the exception of one slave population, they lived longer on average than men. Estrogens, for example, have been shown to enhance the body's immune defenses against infectious disease.

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