I recently found myself in Lang'ata public cemetery. I found out thatÂ moreÂ than 70 per cent of those buried there were young people, aged below 35. Of this,Â moreÂ than 55 per cent were youngÂ men. Why are ourÂ youthfulÂ menÂ dyingÂ so young? Popular culture may paintÂ menÂ as the stronger sex, but from the moment a boy is born, his life isÂ moreÂ likelyÂ to be cut short than his sister's. Across national and cultural boundaries,Â menÂ dieÂ an average of seven years earlier thanÂ women.
In theÂ bookÂ WhyÂ MenÂ DieÂ First,Â Marianne Legato, explains: They're genetically and biologically fragile to start with, and societal norms that encourage and even demand risky behavior byÂ menÂ put them at risk. On average,Â womenÂ live longer thanÂ men.
In fact, 57 per cent of all those aged 65 and older are female. By age 85, 67 per cent areÂ women. The average lifespan is about seven years longer forÂ womenÂ thanÂ menÂ in Kenya. There are many reasonsÂ whyÂ the ratio ofÂ menÂ toÂ women, which is roughly equal in young adulthood, starts to favorÂ womenÂ over time.
Baby boys are one-and-a-half to two timesÂ moreÂ likelyÂ toÂ dieÂ at birth than girls. A weaker immune system, a tendency for immature lung development, inadequate blood flow to male fetuses, and high vulnerability to maternal stresses seem to be the culprits. Brain hemorrhages, congenital malformations, pneumonia and urinary tract infections are allÂ moreÂ common among male newborns.
In Kenya,Â menÂ areÂ moreÂ likelyÂ toÂ dieÂ by suicide. One reason behind the high suicide rate amongÂ menÂ is the high stigma about psychiatric disorders as well as mental healthcare use. So whenÂ men experience stress, they are at higher risk of mental health problems such as depression thanÂ women, possibly because they do not talk about their emotions and they do not seek care.
Substance abuse is alsoÂ moreÂ common amongÂ menÂ thanÂ women. While that gap is narrowing, according to a 2011 study,Â menÂ were 2.2 timesÂ moreÂ likelyÂ to abuse drugs thanÂ women, and 1.9 timesÂ moreÂ likelyÂ to have drug dependence.Â MenÂ far outnumberÂ womenÂ in some of the riskiest occupations, including military combat, firefighting, and working at construction sites. Testosterone putsÂ menÂ at risk biologically, but it also puts them at risk behaviorally. It increases aggressiveness, and, in a cascading effect, results in higher death rate from accidents and homicide.Â
WomenÂ systematically overestimate risk of any type, whileÂ menÂ consistently underestimate it. This pattern has been observed regardless of the context. These include examples ranging from crossing a road, smoking or a terrorist attack. Among pedestrians, males violateÂ moreÂ rules than females.
Among drivers,Â menÂ moreÂ commonly break the rules. Perhaps we will beÂ moreÂ successful in the future in avoiding preventable, premature death amongÂ menÂ and, because many of these efforts will have a bigger impact onÂ men, the gender gap among the elderly may eventually narrow.