Why women live longer than men — and how men will benefit from it

WHENEVER HE SPEAKS on the science of aging at a medical conference, Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician and researcher, likes to kick things off with a brief quiz. Do you deal well with stress? he asks the audience. If so, add five years to your life. Do you smoke? If yes, subtract 15 years. As the questions continue — about exercise, diet and the longevity of family members — you can see people squirming in their seats or beaming with relief as they make the mental calculations to determine how long they can reasonably expect to live. At the start of this life expectancy quiz, Perls tells the men to begin at a baseline of 86 years before adding and subtracting years. For the women, it’s 89 years. Why spot the women additional years?

“Women are stronger when it comes to aging,” says Perls, the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center. “They’re just much better at it.”

We’ve known this for ages, but never quite appreciated how truly rare it is. “Humans are the only species in which one sex is known to have a ubiquitous survival advantage,” says Dr. Stephen N. Austad, director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Science still cannot definitively tell us why women live longer because until recently this gender advantage had been largely overlooked, or outright ignored — mansplained away as no big deal, you might say. It’s an area of research, Austad says ruefully, “that’s little studied.”Read the entire article on The Boston Globe