Women are generally referred to as the ‘weaker sex’. This term is coined mainly on the basis of the physical strength compared with men. But when it comes to the rate of survival, women fair better than man. If the average life expectancy of men is 72 years, that of women will be 79 years. The survival rate in case of diseases too is higher in females. This difference exists right from the fetus stage. Boys are 60% more likely to be born prematurely and suffer from problems related with pre-term birth. Even in rare cases like conjoined twins, where more chances are of still births, among the live births 70% are females. This paradox of the physically weaker women having a comparatively higher survival rate has several biological, evolutionary and behavioral reasons.
The biological reasons-
Certain biological differences between men and women cause the difference in the survival rate of the two. The X chromosome linked genetic defects cause men to be vulnerable to several diseases, while the women’s XX chromosomal structure protect them against heart diseases. The larger body structure of men too leads to faster depreciation and degeneration of their life force. Men tend to have greater height and weight, more upper body strength, and higher metabolic rate. Male vulnerability increases due to their structural, physiological, endocrinological and immunological systems.
The immunosuppressive effect of testosterone lowers male resistance to infection, injury, stress and degenerative diseases.
Also, the body when it is stressed triggers a hormone called oxytocin, which leads to either a fighting spirit to face all odds or an escapist one. In women, the high level of estrogen hormone dulls the effect of oxytocin and hence, women are less adversely affected by stress. They have a friendlier and less confrontational response to stress and hence have lower blood pressure and lower risk of diseases.
Men are at a greater risk of accidents because, compared to women, they have weaker motor and cognitive regulation which causes misjudgment of risks.
The Evolutionary reasons-
According to Darwin, through ages men depended mainly on their ability to compete for mating opportunities, either by winning fights with other males or by presenting display preferred by females. This tends to increase the prevalence of genes that promote male risk-taking and competitive ability at the expense of decreased investment in repair capacity and disease prevention.
Men have a tendency to be less cautious. Hence their is more violence, alcohol & drug usage and smoking among men. Also, men tend to be less health conscious and do not follow precautions much.
Being the nurturers, the nurturing, tending activities in women protect and reduce distress in oneself and the offspring. The natural instinct of women to keep themselves & their offspring safe, make them more cautious and friendly, with a good social network.
Men have to compete for resources, social status and mates. They also tend to take on more risky and hazardous jobs due to their stronger physique and inherent risk-taking nature, exposing them more to accidents. On one hand the social expectations on men are high, on the other; they are discouraged to express their emotions like shame, fear, anxiety, and sadness. This increases the stress level leading to diseases.
This explains why we find more widows in our society than widowers. I t also explains why most men remarry when their spouse die early, or they get divorced. Men being less cautious and naturally more prone to stress and diseases, they need more to be in a meaningful, supportive relationship to stay healthy. It’s a way of nature to balance the physical strength and immunological and behavioral weakness of men with the physical weakness and immunological and behavioral strength of women.