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Women live longer because men ‘are more disposable’

The reason why women live longer than men — and why the final act of sex discrimination favours females over males — may at long last have a scientifically valid explanation.

Scientists believe we are close to understanding why men, on average, die younger than women. Life expectancy in Britain has risen steadily for both sexes over the past few decades and even though the gender gap has narrowed, women are still more likely to live longer than men.

A newborn baby boy in Britain today can expect to live to 77.7 years; a newborn baby girl can expect to live to 81.9 years. That is a difference in life expectancy of more than four years.

The gender differences become more apparent with age. There are roughly six women to every four men by the age of 85.

Past explanations for why women live longer than men, such as men having physically demanding jobs or engaging in riskier activities such as smoking and drinking, cannot fully explain the gender gap. It has been a major scientific puzzle why members of the “fairer sex”, who have in the past been able to retire earlier than men, live longer.

Now the answer to one of the biggest conundrums of human biology may come down to the fact that the female body seems to be better at carrying out the “routine maintenance” that keeps cells alive and ageing at bay — despite the belief in cosmetic circles, based on skin changes, that men age more slowly than women.

Professor Tom Kirkwood, a leading gerontologist at the University of Newcastle, believes there is growing evidence to suggest that men are literally more disposable than women, because the cells of their bodies are not genetically programmed to last as long as they are in females.

The theory builds on a “eureka moment” that first came to him while having a bath one winter's night in 1977.

Called the “disposable soma” theory, it has become the leading scientific explanation for why we age, why we cannot live forever — and now the reason why women live longer than men.

The disposable soma theory states that, although the genes are immortal and can indeed “live forever” by being continually passed on to subsequent generations, the body or “soma” is disposable because it is designed to live only long enough to act as a vehicle for carrying genes to the next generation.

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