Women survive crises better than men

Women resilience famine

Women not only outlive men in normal times, but also during the worst of circumstances, such as famines and epidemics, according to a study which challenges the notion that females are the weaker sex.

In general, the researchers discovered that women lived longer than men by an average of six months to almost four years.

When considering the Irish Potato Famine, it was found that male life expectance dropped to 18.17%, however, female life expectancy dropped by 22.4%.

Women's increased life expectancy is because they tend to have a survival advantage in infancy rather than adulthood. In times of adversity, newborn girls are more likely to survive.

Based on these findings, the academics concluded, "The hypothesis that the survival advantage of women has fundamental biological underpinnings is supported by the fact that under very harsh conditions females survive better than males even at infant ages when behavioral and social differences may be minimal or favor males".

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Case studies included the Irish starvation of 1845-1849, the Iceland measles epidemics of 1846 and 1882, and the experiences of freed Liberian slaves returning to Africa from the USA in the early 19th century, where they encountered a very different disease climate which killed many.

"Even in Liberia, the population with the lowest life expectancy, newborn girls were hardier than newborn boys", they continued. Babies born during that time rarely made it past their second birthday.

In Europe, the life expectancy of a group of people living in Ireland was cut short by more than 15 years due to an extensive crop failure.

It's common knowledge that the life expectancy of women in most parts of the world is significantly higher than that of the opposite gender.

Men might naturally have more muscle mass and strength than women, but ladies are the ones that live longer - even in times of crisis.

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Girls born during the starvation that struck Ukraine in 1933, for example, lived to 10.85, and boys to 7.3 - a 50 per cent difference, researchers said.

Life expectancy for baby boys was 1.68 years, compared to 2.23 years for infant girls.

Dr Zarulli added that it could also be aggravated by "the high preponderance of risk-taking behaviours among men". Estrogens, for example, have been shown to enhance the body's immune defenses against infectious disease.

Lead author Dr Virginia Zarulli, assistant professor of epidemiology, writing in the journal PNAS said: "The conditions experienced by the people in the analysed populations were horrific".

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