Articles on the well-known difference in longevity between men and women surface every now and again in the mainstream media. I'd found the suggestion that this gender gap stems from the tendency of women to take better care of their health to be fairly compelling, but this research postulates smoking as the root cause:
But Case and Paxson noticed a new trend: Women are losing their edge.
This turned out to be a significant clue in the research on the gender gap. In 1900, women outlived men by a couple of years (48.3 years to men's 46.9), andas longevity increased, so did the gap: By 1970, women lived 7 1/2 years longer than men (74.7 on average compared to men's 67.1).
But then the gap started narrowing. In 2001, women's average life expectancy was 79.8, only 5 1/2 years more than men's 74.4.
Sure, women have always smoked, but they never smoked quite as much as men, Case said. They tended to smoke fewer cigarettes a day, and for fewer years. At age 75, the typical male smoker has 25 years of smoking behind him, while a 75-year-old female smoker has 12 years, half as much cumulative smoking - and half as much damage.
But something changed in the 1960s. The U.S. Surgeon General's report on the health hazards of smoking came out in 1964, and men heeded its warning, Case said. Women didn't.
Men's smoking rates plummeted from almost 50 percent in the early '60s to less than 30 percent by 1995.
Smoking by women, who were undeterred, continued to spiral upward. By the late 1970s, almost a third of women were smoking, up from 20 percent in the 1950s.
Since then, rates have declined slightly, but almost 25 percent of women were still smoking in 1995.
The impact of smoking takes decades to show up. Over the past 20 years, lung cancer deaths for men in their 60s stabilized and then dropped. At the same time, lung cancer rates for women in their 60s climbed steadily, then plateaued.
An interesting theory - and smoking certainly is bad for you. If you're interested in living a longer, healthier life then smoking is a habit you should drop right now. No currently available technology or lifestyle choice can outpace the damage smoking does to your body and life expectancy - and by continuing to smoke you continue to rack up future medical costs above and beyond those required to take advantage of first generation regenerative therapies. It's expensive, and it's killing you.