Living Longer: Men Are Closing the Gender Longevity Gap

Men planning for retirement may want to take a second look at the size of their portfolios. According to a recent study released by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, they are living longer than ever before. Men are adding years to their lives at such a fast pace that the gender longevity gap is narrowing for the first time.

According to data from IHME, from 1989 to 2009, the average life expectancy for men increased by 4.6 years. Female life expectancy only grew by 2.7 years over this same period. Today, men are expected to live to 76.2 years old, compared to 81.3 for women.

Why is the average life expectancy inAmericagrowing faster for men than for women? Men are less likely than women to be obese and more likely to exercise and treat cardiovascular disease. Overall, men have also adopted healthier habits. For decades, more men than women smoked, and men were also more likely to follow unhealthy eating habits. Now, major cities likeNew York CityandSan Franciscoare leading a cultural attitude shift toward healthy lifestyle habits.

IHME identified 10 major metropolitan areas that showed the biggest increase in male longevity. In New York City, men added 13.6 years to their lives, and inSan Francisco, men added 11.7. Many of the increases were also seen in the greaterNew York Cityregion, includingKings County, N.Y., with 11.5 years; the Bronx with 11.1 years; Queens with 8.9 years;EssexCounty, N.J., with 8.4 years; andHudson County,N.J., with 8.2 years. Other metropolitan areas seeing a major increase include Washington, D.C., with 10.9 years; Yuma County, Ariz., with 9.5 years; and Fulton County, Ga., with 9.3 years.

What about the women? Over the same 20-year period, cardiovascular disease became the leading cause of death for women. According to Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at IHME, men are more vigilant than women when it comes to treating cardiovascular concerns. Additionally, the American Heart Association reports that cardiovascular disease is often misunderstood, unrecognized and untreated in women. Consequently, women are still expected to outlive men, although by far less than they were expected to 20 years ago.

Traditionally, women live longer than men. According to Tom Perls, founder of the New England Centenarian Study at BostonUniversity, 85 percent of all people over 100 years old are women. Experts estimate that up to 70 percent in the variation of life expectancy for men and women may be due to environmental factors. In his research, Perls cited three behaviors that men traditionally engage in more than women: smoking, eating foods high in cholesterol and internalizing stress. The study showed that when men eliminated these bad habits, their overall life expectancy increased. That’s good news for women.

As the IHME study shows, behavioral changes for men made a big difference. According to Mokdad, women need to start exercising and be more proactive when it comes to their cardiovascular health.

Ladies, it’s time to hit the treadmills!