HEALTH

The life expectancy gap between women and men in U.S. is growing

Apr 25, 2023, 6:01 PM | Updated: 6:03 pm

men's health...

A Utah doctor discusses the why testing for colon cancer is important. (American Cancer Society/Getty Images)

(American Cancer Society/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — The life expectancy of American men is dropping. 

In 2011 in the United States, life expectancy at birth was 76.3 years for males and 81.1 years for females, a 4.8-year difference, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the United States, life expectancy in 2021 was 79.1 years for women and 73.2 years for men; that 5.9-year difference is the largest gap in a quarter-century. Across the life span — from infancy to the teen years, midlife and old age — the risk of death at every age is higher for boys and men than for girls and women, according to the Washington Post  article “A silent crisis in men’s health gets worse.”

Life expectancy in the U.S. and peer countries generally increased from 1980-2019 but decreased in most countries in 2020 due to COVID-19. From 2020 to 2021, life expectancy at birth began to rebound in most comparable countries while it continued to decline in the U.S., according to Health System Tracker.

Why is male life expectancy falling?

Dr. Richard Ferguson, chief medical officer of Health Choice Utah and founder of Black Physicians of Utah, joins Dave Noriega and KSL at Night co-host Leah Murray.

Ferguson said boys are at a disadvantage from the beginning.

“Men are told, ‘Only go to the doctor when you’re hurt or if there’s a problem with your sexual health,” he said. “Women, especially young girls, once they’re over 18, they’re encouraged — you need to now establish care with a gynecologist because her mother told [her] that and so you have women bestowing this wisdom onto young girls and not often to boys or men.”

Leah said she makes an appointment with her doctor every year but has to nag her husband to attend his doctor’s appointment.

“Well, that’s a good point that you actually mentioned marriage,” Ferguson said. “Married men live longer, two years on average, than their unmarried counterparts. Why is that? Well, they had the influence of their significant other their spouse, often a woman.”

Female health is emphasized but not male health

The health of women and children is prioritized early in life, but often, the doctor said, the cardiac and mental health of men is not.

“As I was walking up here, I saw an unhoused man in front of the KSL Studios. I’m less likely to see an unhoused woman with a child,” Ferguson said. “The city, the states across our nation will say, ‘No, that is not acceptable.'”

The doctor said while he was working in urgent care if a man came in due to an ankle sprain, for example, he would try to check the man’s vitals and encourage him to focus on preventive care.

“One of the first things I would do because I know it’s a man, and he’s probably not getting his blood pressure checked, this is my one opportunity” [to check his blood pressure].

Dave said he was starting to see how much the social aspect of medicine is playing a part in his reluctance to regularly check in with a healthcare provider. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into the doctor with that sprained ankle.  I’m piecing it all together now. All of a sudden, my doctor was like, ‘Well, let’s take a little blood sample . . . that’s the only time you’re gonna find out that my cholesterol was high,” he said.

“Let’s make it acceptable and encourage our young boys and young men that it’s good to go to the doctor. It’s not a sign that you are failing at something,” Ferguson said.

 

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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The life expectancy gap between women and men in U.S. is growing