"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

“Deaths of despair” amongst men are widening the gap in life expectancy

November 14, 2023 – The gap in life expectancy between men and ladies is widening as more men die from drug overdoses, suicide and gun violence.

Women today live a median of 5.8 years longer than men, which is the largest difference since 1996. In 2010, the difference was only 4.8 years.

COVID-19, opioid overdoses, suicide and homicide are amongst the largest contributors to the widening life expectancy gap, based on a brand new evaluation published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine shows. Deaths related to drug use – including alcohol – and mental health problems or violence are sometimes known as “deaths of despair” by public health experts.

These major causes join an inventory of other health problems which have contributed to men's shorter life expectancy over the past decade, corresponding to heart problems, that are strongly linked to smoking. Women have outlived men by greater than a century, the researchers found.

For men and ladies combined, average life expectancy was 76.1 years in 2021, down from 77 years in 2020 and 78.8 years in 2019, the authors reported. Babies born in 2021 were predicted to live until age 73.2 if male and 79.1 if female CDC data utilized by the researchers.

While the impact of COVID on the widening gender gap in life expectancy was already known from previous research, the authors wrote that additionally they wanted to look at the impact of other contributing aspects.

“While drug overdose death rates and homicide rates have increased for both men and women, it is clear that men account for an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths,” lead creator Brandon Yan, MD, MPH, a physician assistant on the University of California, San Francisco , and researchers on the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said in a opinion.

The authors noted that the upper COVID death rate amongst men was likely attributable to men having higher-risk health conditions than women, unhealthy lifestyle aspects, and likewise because men were more prone to be working, incarcerated or homeless.

Beyond COVID, the authors pointed to violence, mental health and the high rate of men with multiple health problems corresponding to a mix of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

“Differential worsening mortality from diabetes, heart disease, homicide, and suicide suggests that chronic metabolic diseases and mental illness may also contribute to the gender gap in life expectancy,” the authors wrote. “The increase in deaths from overdose, murder and suicide underscores the twin crises of deaths from despair and gun violence.”