Monday, August 20, 2012

Why do women outlive men?

Yesterday, a friend asked me a brilliant question. Here's the issue he presented to me. He said that in marriages (certainly in earlier decades) men had control, and women held a subordinate position relative to their husbands. Further this subordination is mandated by several religions, and many women made "obedience" promises as part of their wedding vows..

In my book, I've quoted the Whitehall studies that  show mortality and health depend on your grade in the organization hierarchy. The higher up you are in the org chart, the better your health is. Higher grades mean higher levels of control, resulting in better health levels.

My friend's question was, how can we reconcile the Whitehall studies with the fact that women have a higher life expectancy than their husbands, given that women ostensibly have lower control than their husbands within marriage?

I'm guessing that there are two main reasons for this phenomenon:

1. Women traditionally "married up". They wanted a man who was more powerful than they were, in terms of wealth, income, status, education, ambition and so on. Further, they wanted men physically dominant, ie taller and stronger than themselves. Also, this imbalance of power was actually a source of comfort for the woman, as it provided a sense of security (I'm obviously making some broad and sweeping generalizations here).

2. The man was in the position of protector, in that he was primarily responsible for his wife and family's safety and security, including providing for them. It was in his self-interest to protect his family. That said, many men did abuse their wives, as the system was still that of a dictatorship. Nonetheless, this "dictatorship system" does not seem to have an overall negative effect on life expectancy of women (I am of course not talking of extreme cases of abuse that  resulted in women dying of grievous injuries).

In contrast, bosses are in no way responsible for your "safety" (in this case, job security). Your boss's main job is definitely not to care for you, or provide for you, or protect you. 

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