We’ve all heard that girls mature faster than boys. On the other hand, we’re also all too familiar with mean-spirited stereotypes that portray the ageing process as much less flattering for women. But how exactly is ageing different for men and women. We know for sure that it’s not the same both on a physical level as well as in terms of how both genders experience the aging process on a psychological level.
Here we also have to take into account the influence societal expectations have on how each gender perceives aging. Unfortunately, even current societal expectations tend to be very similar to those that produced the stereotypes we mentioned earlier. And what about lifestyle and environment? Let’s take a closer look.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, the average life expectancy for men is 76.4 years, while for women, it’s 81.1 years. The difference between genders is of about 5 years. And this isn’t just in the United States. Women have a higher life expectancy than men almost everywhere in the world.
We do not have a definitive answer as to why that is since there are too many factors to consider. Most likely, the cause is a combination of these factors. Some studies suggest that the difference might have something to do with higher mortality rates from cancer linked to the Y chromosome.
Then there’s also the rate of cardiovascular disease. Men tend to accumulate more fat around their internal organs, what we refer to as “visceral fat.” In contrast, women tend to accumulate more fat directly under the skin – “subcutaneous fat.” This difference stems both from the presence of the second X chromosome in women as well as the production of estrogen. This has an impact on longevity because having fat around your organs increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, we have to consider how men respond to stress and how likely they are to seek professional help when needed. Here we’re referring both to mental health services as well as regular medical checkups. Women tend to go to the doctor more often, so they’re more likely to be diagnosed early for various medical conditions, while men, partly due to social conditioning, are more likely to ignore their symptoms and try to “power through” even when they feel ill. Fortunately, this behavioral difference between men and women seems to be diminishing since access to medical attention has become more convenient through services such as telemedicine for nursing homes.
Men also tend to choose more physically demanding and labor-intensive careers like working in construction that takes a toll on their health. Likewise, they tend to choose more dangerous careers, such as joining the armed forces. Not only that, but they’re more likely to participate in dangerous activities as a form of leisure. Unintentional injuries (accidents) are the third leading cause of death for men and sixth for women. Men are more prone to taking risks both because of the effects of testosterone and also because the frontal lobe – a region of the brain responsible for assessing risk and decision-making – develops more slowly in boys and is larger in women than in men.
Both men and women go through some sexual changes as they age. Men tend to go through these changes more gradually because they don’t have menopause like women do. Menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. It begins with perimenopause, about 8 to 10 years before menopause. During perimenopause, ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. This drop in estrogen production accelerates during the last two years of perimenopause when women start to experience some menopause symptoms, but they’re still having menstrual cycles and can get pregnant.
Menopause is diagnosed when a woman hasn’t had a menstrual cycle in 12 consecutive months. This means that her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen. The ovaries are the main source of estrogen, but the adrenal glands and fat tissue also produce small amounts. Because of the lower levels of estrogen, after menopause, women have a higher risk of developing certain medical conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis. Other common symptoms and side-effects of menopause include fatigue, hot flashes, lower libido, and vaginal dryness.
As mentioned, men tend to go through these changes more gradually, but their testosterone levels also decline with age – a process referred to as andropause. On average, a man’s testosterone level decreases by 1% every year after the age of 30. This is the dominant hormonal component of men’s aging process and can also lead to lower libido, erectile dysfunction, and changes in sleep patterns. However, men can still produce sperm into old age and reproduce, but some reduction in sperm quantity and quality is common.
It’s no secret that advertisement campaigns for anti-aging products mostly target women, taking advantage of the increased societal pressure to maintain a youthful appearance for as long as possible.
However, hormones that are typically produced in higher levels by the male body, such as testosterone and androgen, have a thickening effect on the skin. As a result, men’s skin is about 25% thicker than women’s. Men’s skin also has a higher collagen density, which is what gives it that rougher texture. Since they tend to sweat more and their sweat has a higher concentration of lactic acid in their sweat, they have more natural moisture in their skin. All these factors contribute to helping men’s skin fend off fine lines, though they are more prone to developing deeper-set wrinkles.
Moreover, women tend to use more sun protection products on their faces since most anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizers, and serums marketed to them have SPF built-in.
Having said that, we still need to take menopause into account. After the age of 30, both men and women start losing collagen at about the same rate. After menopause, however, the rate becomes faster for about 5 years, after which it slows back down. Since men don’t experience menopause, the rate with which they lose collages does not increase for this 5-year period.