When we talk about male-female disparities in lifespan, we’re generally referring to the diseases and conditions that kill adult men and women: cancers, heart attacks, diabetes, and so on. If the discussion health disparities between male and female children and adolescents, the focus is usually on accidents and suicide—both of which end the lives of far more young males than females. But recent research has found that males are more likely than their female peers to die from a variety of other medical conditions as well. In fact, after analyzing data from 1999-2008, researchers found that boys had higher death rates from conditions as varied as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, infections, chromosomal abnormalities, diseases of the eyes and ears, and many others.
The disparity between male and female death rates exists in every age group, from infants through age 19. Overall, males under 20 were 44% more likely than females to die from any cause. And over the course of the decade-long study, 111,000 more young males than females died.
“Our analysis of the gender difference in mortality among persons,20 years of age suggests the existence of a ‘male syndrome,” the researchers wrote. “We observed an overall female survival advantage that starts early in life and exists across many diverse causes of mortality.”
The researchers, led by Dr. Chris Feudtner, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, also found that males are at higher risk even before they’re born, suffering from a higher death rate at every stage of pregnancy but one (the 24th week).
No one seems to have a solid explanation for what accounts for this gender gap. According to Feudtner, it’s possible that boys are simply more vulnerable to certain diseases. And once they’ve got it, they’re more likely to die from it. Or it could be the opposite: “This could be a story of resilience and ability to overcome,” he said. “Maybe there’s some robustness factor that males are missing.”
You can read the full study here.
A new study just completed by the Vermont Department of Mental Health found another area where boys seem to be at a biological disadvantage when compared with girls: Boys develop emotional and behavioral problems at younger ages than girls. Among children ages 4-7 who experienced “severe emotional disturbances,” 91 percent were boys. Among those 16 and over when those disturbances surfaced, 65 percent were boys.