Aging in Society: Selected Reviews of Recent Research

By Matilda White Riley; Beth B. Hess et al. | Go to book overview

8
Women and Men: Mortality and Health of Older People1

Lois M. Verbrugge University of Michigan

To soothe the feelings of her children when they lost a sibling battle, my mother would say, "Everything will even out by the time you're 80." While this may be true for minor matters like candy bars and checkers games, it is certainly not true for the important matters of health and mortality. Individuals in different demographic and social groupings differ sharply in their chances of reaching older ages (65+) and in their health during later years. The differences are greatest by sex: Men have notably higher death rates at all ages; thus, fewer of them ever reach age 65. And among older men and women, the men appear to have more serious health problems. In contrast, the women have more numerous but apparently milder problems.

Although large sex differences in health and mortality have existed throughout this century, we scarcely know the reasons for them. They emerge from some combination of genetic risks for each sex, from risks acquired during life, and from attitudes that influence symptom perception and curative behavior. Men's overall risks are higher than women's, but we do not know which risks are most important in causing their disadvantage. Will women's favored status continue in coming decades? It is popularly believed that as women participate more in the labor force and adopt lifestyles similar to those of men, their health and longevity will suffer. It is true that if women and men have more similar roles and activities in the future, their health profiles and death rates will be somewhat more similar

____________________
1
In addition to Helena Z. Lopata and George C. Myers, the author is grateful to Berit Ingersoll, Tom Hickey, Edith Gomberg, and Tom Wan for their critical reading of an earlier version of this paper. Jean Kracke provided competent research assistance.

-139-

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