It's held true ever since birth stopped being a death sentence for an unacceptable percentage of American mothers that women have outlived men in this country. With newer studies tracking not just gender age gaps but racial gaps as well, we find that women of some races outlive men of other races by not just sententious but by chasmal gaps measured in decades.
A survey released this week by PLoS Medicine online showed the average African-American male can expect to live to the age of 68.7 while Asian-American women live to 86.7 years on average. Wow, that's huge. Why the differences?
Lead researcher Christopher Murray told various media outlets the gaps are due to injury (men tend to engage in riskier behavior than women) and to "preventable" risk factors for long-term disease such as smoking, alcoholism, and obesity, especially in Americans ages 15 to 59.
I've been watching the gender age gap for years. At one point not too many years ago, women tended to outlive men in America by some seven years. That gap has since shrunk to five years and change.
The first major health change in reversing the age gap (yes, Mildred, there was a time when men outlived women) came with the advent of safe birth. Since America's beginnings, birth was a major factor in shortening women's life spans, even up until some 50 years ago:
Childbirth in colonial America was a difficult and sometimes dangerous experience for women. During the 17th and 18th centuries, between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of all births ended in the mother's death as a result of exhaustion, dehydration, infection, hemorrhage, or convulsions. . . . Death in childbirth was sufficiently common that many colonial women regarded pregnancy with dread. In their letters, women often referred to childbirth as 'the Dreaded apperation,' 'the greatest of earthly miserys,' or 'that evel hour I loock forward to with dread.'
Much as many of us tend to grouse about the U.S. healthcare system, at least we've advanced to the point where women no longer dread delivery as a possible death sentence.
Now as to the age gap, I've been wondering what impact boomer women's average life spans will have in narrowing it even further. As the first generation of American women who worked outside the home in large percentages, we seem to have suffered more stress than our foremothers.
And we all know, stress kills!