Study: Men in the U.S. are dying nearly six years before women

(AXIOS – Jacob Knutson) — The life expectancy gap between women and men in the U.S. widened again in 2021, meaning men currently die nearly six years before women, according to research published in JAMA on Monday.



Why it matters: Women have outlived men for more than a century, but since hitting a low in 2010, the gap has steadily broadened over the past decade.

  • The trend is occurring alongside a decrease in overall life expectancy in the U.S. It has fallen for two consecutive years, most recently dropping from 77 years in 2020 to 76.1 years in 2021.

Of note: The life expectancy disparity between men and women hasn’t been this wide since 1996 and is roughly a year above the low of 4.8 years that was recorded in 2010.

Driving the news: Researchers said the COVID-19 pandemic was the greatest contributor to the gap’s growth, as men died from the virus died more often than women, potentially owing to social factors and health behaviors.

  • The second greatest cause was a rise in unintentional injuries, like vehicle accidents and drug overdoses, which killed a record 106,000 people in the U.S. in 2021.
  • Homicides, heart disease and suicides also contributed to the worsening life expectancy for men.

Between the lines: Scientists have hypothesized that discrepancy could be caused by differences in some biological functions.

  • But environmental and societal factors also influence men’s exposure to health risks and their tendency to access health services less often than women.
  • For example, men are more likely to experience homeless, make up over 90% of the country’s prison population and are more likely to be a victim of fatal violence or suicide.

What they’re saying: While drug overdose and homicide rates have increased for both men and women, men constitute a disproportionate share of those types of deaths, said Brandon Yan, a co-author of the research and a UC San Francisco resident physician, in a statement.

  • “We have brought insights to a worrisome trend,” Yan said. “Future research ought to help focus public health interventions towards helping reverse this decline in life expectancy.”

The big picture: The phenomenon isn’t unique to the U.S., as women generally outlive men around the world — though particularly in wealthy countries, according to the World Health Organization.

  • The gap is less stark in low-income countries, though that’s largely because both men and women often lack access to health care.
  • In new population estimates published last week, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that women will continue living longer than men over the remainder of the century.

Go deeper: Census projects U.S. population bust by 2080