Women biologically stronger than men, more likely to survive life-threatening crisis

Women resilience famine

Upon review of three centuries of historical records, Duke University investigators discovered that women do not just outlive men in normal times.

The researchers found that the behavioural differences were the least remarkable between both genders in infancy and the fact that females have an edge during that period suggests at least in part that biological factors plays a decisive role in giving women a longer expectancy during adulthood.

WOMEN are more likely to survive life-threatening situations than their male counterparts, scientists studying the Irish Famine have found.

The study findings appear in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors write: "Even in Liberia, the population with the lowest life expectancy, newborn girls were hardier than newborn boys, ' lending support to the idea there is a 'biological underpinning" of the female survival advantage.

Scientists at Duke University set out to measure the impact of starvation, disease and other hardships on mortality rates among human populations over the last 250 years.

These included the 1933 Ukraine starvation in the Soviet Union in which four million people died; the 1845 Irish potato starvation; life expectancy of slaves in Trinidad in 1813; the Swedish starvation of 1772-1773; survival rates of freed slaves from the U.S. settling in Liberia between 1820 and 1843 and a deadly measles epidemics in Iceland in 1842 and 1882.

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Life expectancy for both sexes dropped from 38 years, to 18.7 years for men and 22.4 years for women during the crisis, which claimed about one million lives. Babies born during that time rarely made it past their second birthday.

During Sweden's last major starvation, in 1771, abnormal weather resulted in widespread crop failures and life expectancy dropped to 17.15 years for males and 18.79 for females.

However, even when mortality was very high for both sexes, women still lived longer than men by six months to nearly four years on average.

We all know that women are the supreme reigning life expectancy champs in nearly every country in the world (although chubby dads in the U.S. live a pretty long time).

Girls born during the starvation that struck Ukraine in 1933, for example, lived to 10.85, and boys to 7.3 - a 50 percent difference.

'Most of the female advantage was due to differences in mortality among infants. The male sex hormone may also harm the immune system.

"Our results add another piece to the puzzle of gender differences in survival", the researchers said.