Sex differences in longevity and aging

Steven N. Austad

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

45 Scopus citations


This chapter reviews the copious evidence for the robustness of women's survival advantage, discusses some of the extant evolutionary and mechanistic hypotheses to explain this pattern, and also examines some pragmatic approaches to investigating this issue. The human sex difference in longevity, and possibly aging, may be as robust an aspect of biology as any that one do not understand even in broad terms. Information from both the natural world and captive populations indicates clearly that among different species one may find wildly divergent patterns of sex differences. Sometimes females seem more robust, sometimes males. The evolutionary hypothesis that seems best supported by existing evidence is the Williams hypothesis, in which the sex subjected to the greatest extrinsic hazards in the wild will evolve the more rapidly deteriorating phenotype. Gaining insight into the cellular, molecular, and physiological mechanism(s) underlying greater female robustness in humans would potentially be a great boon for enhancing and extending male health. On the other hand, understanding in more detail women's greater susceptibility to chronic nonfatal conditions would be a great boon to their health. Mouse models of the aging process are unlikely to be informative with respect to elucidating mechanisms of these sex differences unless the conditions favoring enhanced male longevity versus female longevity can be discovered. Other model species may prove more suitable for research in this field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of the Biology of Aging
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9780123786388
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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