Women are More Likely to Reach Extreme Ages – but Men Will Catch Up
More and more people are living until the ages of 100 or 105, becoming so-called centenarians or semi-supercentenarians. Women are far more likely than men to reach this old age, but according to a new study by Graziella Caselli, Marco Battaglini and Giorgia Capacci, the age gap is likely to grow smaller in the following decades.
The researchers used survey data on both living and deceased persons born in Italy between 1870 and 1904. The results show that today, more and more people in Italy reach the ages of 100, 105 and even 110, but they are mostly women. The growing gap in life expectancy between Italian men and women even increased for the groups in this study.
Unlike the females, the male individuals that took part in the First World War experienced a stagnated life expectancy due to the effects of the conflict. Besides the actual losses of life in the war, many men started to smoke since this was a common habit among the soldiers. This can explain why they had an increased risk of dying, especially from lung cancer – an effect that lasted even until their older ages, at least until they were 80 years old.
The Italian women in these groups, however, were protected from negative habits since to a large extent, they did not work outside the home. So, for the groups that took part in the First World War, it is only the group of men that reached the age of 90 that really began to catch up in life expectancy in the same way as the women.
For the cohorts following those of the First World War, improvements in medicine and health made life expectancy rise for both men and women. The positive developments include treatments for cardiovascular diseases and vaccines. These developments played an essential role in augmenting the number of centenarians of both sexes.
What will happen in the future? The researchers argue that considering the rate of the increase of the Italian population, more people in the groups following the ones they studied are likely to live up to 100 and at least 112 years. They also believe that the gender gap will gradually close as people born in the 1950’s and onwards turn 100. This is based on the fact that the mortality levels in old ages before 100 are very likely to continue to drop for both men and women, if no unexpected event occurs.
Caselli and colleagues hope that the people reaching these extreme ages will enjoy good living conditions, both mentally and physically. They argue that for policy makers, this is also important “for containing public expenditure in our societies”.