Why delicate men die more frequently than robust ladies

In general, women outlive men. This is not a new idea. But what you might not know is that the effect can't be explained by some simple hand-waving about risk-taking men, or war, or the allure of the Marlboro Man. In fact, the tendency for men to die at a higher frequency than women happens at every age group — even in utero. Fetal males die more often than fetal females. So what makes the men-folk so delicate? NPR's Robert Krulwich investigates.


    1. Believe it or not, this is one theory.  Basically women have two copies of the X chromosome, so are more resistant to damage there.  A man’s genome is more fragile because he has only single copies of the X and Y.

      1. I don’t know whether they account for the discrepancy; but X-linked disorders are a pretty well established thing. X codes for a variety of important functions, and women have redundancy that allows them to survive(sometimes with limited ill effects, sometimes largely unaffected) a defect confined to one X chromosome. Men, not so much.

        (Also, stupidity calculated to totally attract the chicks, dude; but that isn’t as well established genetically…)

        1. IIRC, women are a mosaic of cell types because one X chromosome is inactive as a Barr body 

          So some cells have the mothers X chromosome and some cells have the father’s   X chromosome. This might ? contribute to autoimmune diseases that are more common in women. 

  1. Wait, I have die more than once?
    I’m not sure that is a good thing or a bad thing.

  2. “But what you might not know is that the effect can’t be explained by
    some simple hand-waving about risk-taking men, or war, or the allure of
    the Marlboro Man.”

    Actually, some of it can. From Kalben’s abstract:

    Evidence supports both the biological/genetic and the social/cultural/environmental/behavioral schools of hypotheses, as well as interactions between the two, but the determining component may revolve around the differing chromosomes and hormones between the sexes. Behavioral distinctions, especially cigarette smoking, also affect the sex mortality differential.

    1. Or to put it another way, if you’re already expendable, why not take a few more risks?

  3. Since married men tend to live longer* (5-10 years) than single men, there is some social/behavior aspect…

    (*Some married men claim that it just seems like they live longer)

    1. There is some debate as to how much of this extended lifespan is due to selection effects (women preferentially marrying healthier men).

      1.  I would say women from the beginning of time selected the smartest men–the ones who had ideas that made their and their childrens’  lives easier,  more productive, and that helped to maintain the population. I’m sure a Cro-Magnon  male with a sense of humor was also much sought out by the females who, for instance, dwelled in or near the river caves of the southwest of France. A hunter may have brought the meat home but a thinker invented the tools that were the most efficient and effective.

        1. Maybe your not so smart and not so nice Cro-Magnon man explains why women ended up hearty!

          All I can say is the wrong choice of partner will definitely tick years of ANYONE’S life.

        2.  Doubt it.  The pace of technological innovation was incredibly slow at the time.  There were probably multiple generations in between major discoveries, many of which were probably discovered by accident and passed group to group rather than “thought of” by particular cromagnons.  I’d guess humans mostly traded on traditions before historical times.

          On the other hand, there may have been some sexual selection for males with greater social intelligence.  You have to be able to model someone else’s frame of mind to trick them effectively.  I think selection for social capabilities is much more plausible than selection for technological innovation and would probably have the same effect ultimately.

          Nonetheless, cromagnons already had larger brains than we do (as did Neanderthals) so all selection for intelligence may have ended before we left Africa and all our “progress” since then may well be cultural.

          1.  I didn’t mean to imply there was  fast pace technological innovation but the more intelligent of our early ancestors certainly could have been above average problem solvers in obvious ways that effected their groups’ daily lives for the better.
             And what was technological innovation to them? Learning to use a flint stone to make a fire is a dramatic example but who first thought of using a pine needle to extract a sliver or bee’s stinger and all the other mundane methods of surviving day to day?
            Your description of social intelligence makes me ask if that came  after they established the basics of survival, when they had the time to live more nuanced lives.
            I would also suggest that I’m sure females contributed to the technological and social advancement of our early ancestors.

  4. Recently I was looking at the Social Security “likelihood of dying” tables, and while of course the overall trend of female longevity is quite strong, the single most invulnerable demographic slice is 10-year-old boys. 

    Which is exactly how I remember feeling when I was one!

  5. Huh, I thought everyone knew we males had higher phlogiston counts, thus rendering us more susceptible to the deleterious effects of those nefarious ætherickal Waves.

      1. I have the same amount of hair on myself that I had at 16.  Except now it’s just migrated off my head and taken up residences everywhere else…

        1. Well when you are a woman you definitely get hairier during that death-balanced-era of life, so maybe the hair is the thing that kills you. It sucks you dry while it grows, and then it takes everything with it when it falls out. Sounds like perfectly good science to me!

  6. I admit I didn’t listen to the NPR story.  This is an old story. Nothing new. Two thoughts:
    1) The males of all species are expendable. One male can mate with many females insuring a continuation of the  population of said species.
    2) There are more genders than the two that are always referred to. Nature is more complicated and nuanced than common knowledge or societal dictates would have us think.

    1. “1) The males of all species are expendable. One male can mate with many females insuring a continuation of the  population of said species.”

      That’s not really true of either the Preying Mantis or the Angler Fish (and I’m sure there are plenty of other horrific examples. Sexy-fun-time usually isn’t :(

  7. http://www.jokes.com/funny-dirty-jokes/hgru8r/doctor-s-orders

    A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office.After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don’t do the following, your husband will surely die.”
    “Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast.  Be pleasant at all times. For lunch make him a nutritious meal.  For dinner prepare an especially nice meal for him.  Don’t burden him with chores.  Don’t discuss your problems with him, it will only make his stress worse.   No nagging.  And most importantly, make love with your husband several times a week.  If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, I think your husband will regain his health completely.”
    On the way home, the husband asked his wife.  “What did the doctor say?”“He said you’re going to die,”  she replied.

  8. I have known a lot of men who wouldn’t go to the doctor when they had suspicious symptoms.  I would guess this is a part of the reason.

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