Why Women Live Longer Than Men

I was in my early thirties when I met the Delany Sisters, who were, at the time, 100 and 102. I was blessed to have several years with them as trusted writer, confidant, and keeper of their stories. I’ve also written about (and spent a lot of time with) a Native American Elder named Marion “Strong Medicine” Gould, now 92 years old; and a Holocaust survivor, Amalie Petranker Salsitz, who died several years ago at age 80.

I was blessed, also, to come from a family where women tended to live a long time, including my Dad’s mother who lived to 101.

In other words, I have a lot of experience with older women.

When it comes to older men, however, I’m pretty much a newbie. When my dad turned 90 in March, it began to really hit me that this is a different ballgame.

Case in point: when my mother, who is 88, needs to go to the doctor, she makes a list in advance and even researches the topic on the Internet. Like every other older woman I’ve ever known, she will go to the doctor when necessary and is prepared to ask questions.

But when Dad goes to the doctor and is asked how he’s doing, he says, “Fine, thank you.”

That’s it.

If the doctor persists and says something along the lines of, “Then why are you here?” the response from Dad is vague: “Well, I have an appointment” or “my daughter brought me.”

He refuses to offer details. Why? Because, as he tells me later, he doesn’t want to sound like a whiner. He’s a World War Two veteran and in his generation complaining was out of the question.

Thus, the very most he will say to the doctor is, “I’m doing pretty good for an old gentleman.”

At this point Mom will speak up. “Tell the doctor what you told me this morning,” she will say.

And Dad will reply, “Oh, that. Well I feel much better now.”

Mom will then throw her hands up in the air. And yours truly, their youngest child, steps up to the plate.

“Dad!” I will say. “You must tell the doctor how you feel!”

“But I feel fine,” Dad replies.

Meanwhile, the doctor starts looking at his watch. And, whether Dad likes it or not, I feel compelled to describe Dad’s symptoms to the doctor. Dad is only slightly miffed that I rat him out. (Dad has never been one to get angry; at most, he gets indignant.)

Since these encounters I’ve become aware of a pattern. When I speak to other women, they say that their husband, father, or brother tends to do the same only it gets worse the older they are.

Come to think of it, my husband, while much younger than my dad, tends to be unforthcoming when he goes to the doctor.

Is it any wonder that women live longer? Or, am I being unfair? What has your experience been with older men compared to older women? I’d love your input.

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Born in New England, Amy spent her childhood in the Arcadia Lakes section of Columbia, South Carolina where she was an avid reader, tree climber, raft builder (inspired by Huck Finn) and turtle rescuer. A graduate of the University of Tampa, Amy began her writing career as a newspaper reporter. In 1993, she published her first book, HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS, a New York Times Bestseller for 113 weeks. In 1995, HAVING OUR SAY was adapted for Broadway and, in 1999, for an award-winning film. In 2012, Simon & Schuster's Atria imprint published Amy's first novel, MISS DREAMSVILLE AND THE COLLIER COUNTY WOMEN'S LITERARY SOCIETY. Amy is working on a sequel to be published in fall 2015.

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Comments

  1. says

    My husband is the same way! He actually gets perturbed if I mention something about him not feeling well. He wants to keep all that info to himself, even if it’s beneficial for our family members or a doctor to know. Back when he had a terrible plague of hives, I finally threatened to go with him to the doctor and explain every last detail if he didn’t do it himself. He did it himself. ;) There’s a way to work these lovable, if stubborn, gents!

      • says

        I fear my time may be short.

        I don’t go to the doctor until I’m knocking at death’s door. I went two years ago because I was suffering with acid reflux. “How long have you had this?” they asked, so sure I may be having a heart attack instead.
        “Two and a half years,” I answered.
        “My gosh, what took you so long to come in?”
        “I thought it would go away.”

        Seriously. True.

  2. says

    Amen, sister Belle! Last month, my husband dropped a knife from the counter and it landed on his foot….point down. Okay, he stabbed his foot. Deep. The blood gushing kind.

    Did he go to E.R.? Nope.

    A week later when he had another bleeding event that made it look like there’d been a murder in my bathroom, did he go to the E.R.? Yes, reluctantly….and after my hissy-fit. Did he follow the doctor’s instructions and stay home from work, stay off the foot, not wear any shoes until healed? Nope!

    Three weeks later, did he thank me for DEMANDING he return to the doctor when it gushed again while he slept as he awakening from EMERGENCY SURGERY? Nope.

    And, when anyone asks….he responds: “Eh….it was nothing. I think it would’ve been fine, had they just given it time to heal.”

    Now….I love my hubby, but GRRRR…… (men don’t like to be sick!!)

      • says

        Kellie, your guy gets the prize! I wonder if men are tough or in denial? Maybe both! I suppose this is all part of the way we raise boys. As Julie has noted on this blog, we’re still raising boys to hide their feelings.

  3. Rachel Hauck says

    So interesting, Amy. My grandma is 100. She takes little medication. I think aspirin and maybe BP meds. She rarely complains. She is of that same generation that did not complain.

    I think she doesn’t complain tho because she “doesn’t want to be a bother.” And in some ways, she doesn’t want to admit she’s old. Even at 100. :)

    On the other hand, my 93 year old father-in-law rarely complains. He’s been rushed to the hospital saying, “I’m okay.” My mother-in-law, 87, is vocal about her physical issues — in a kind way — but she is like your mama.

    My husband is vocal BUT when I offer remedies, he says, “Naw, I’m fine.” Or, “Maybe later.” Or “I’m going to the doc in four months anyway. I’ll wait.” LOL.

    I think it can be gender specific but I think it’s personality too.

    Me? I’ve vocal about almost everything so I’m vocal when I don’t feel well. I take in advice, do research, but I’m very aware that the plethora of advice out there is not always wise, grounded, founded or true. I trust my doc and my own heart and discernment. I trust the God who heals!

    Thanks for the discussion!

    Rachel

  4. says

    Congrats on your Grandma turning 100, Rachel! Agreed, some of it is a generational thing, some of it is personality, some may be gender differences.

    Myself, I hate going to the doctor although I wouldn’t hesitate in circumstances such as the one Kellie described!

    Interesting factoid about women and modern medicine (something I learned in college in a Sociology class): Medical textbooks used to state that “When a woman arrives at a doctor’s appointment with a list, she is a neurotic.”

  5. Lisa Wingate says

    That pretty much describes my grandparents to a tee and my husband’s grandparents. As long as I can remember, Meemaw was the keeper of the vitamins and the watcher of proper diet. I think that’s pretty typical. I have a retired man friend who celebrates by buying himself a bottle of soda and a can of spam and crackers when his wife goes away on a trip.

    I have to admit, though, in our household, I think I’m more (or at least as much) the one who tends toward “I’m fine.” ;)

  6. Julie Cantrell says

    This is a great topic, Amy. I love reading your stories about your parents and the sweet relationship you have with both of them. Same with Rachel and her grandmother. It’s so important to keep those cross-generational bonds as strong as we can. I love that you go to the doctor with your folks. They sure are lucky to have you as their daughter. j

  7. says

    Amy, your take on me not going to the doc strikes a chord with my guys– my father, husband and son. One of my dad’s fav lines speaks volumes, “It won’t matter a bit in a hundred years.” :)

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