This article is the 10th and final article in a series about similarities and differences between men and women.
Q: What are differences and similarities in how men and women age?
A: In an article by Yagana Shah, associate editor of the Huffington Post, in June 2015, he wrote about five ways that men and women grow older differently. Much attention is paid to the differences in maturity rates of girls and boys. But the culture does not pay much attention to the differences in the aging process in men and women.
Perhaps the most familiar difference is that of longevity. The Centers for Disease Control report that the average life expectancy for men in the United States is 76.4 years and for women it is 81.2 years. That is a difference of close to five years in life expectancy. Some studies relate the different longevity statistics to the Y chromosome in men and their higher mortality rates for cancer. Some other theories suggest the differences are due to the way men handle stress, a later onset for women of heart disease, and the likelihood of women getting regular health checkups. Although the causes for the differences in longevity are educated guesses, nevertheless the World Health Organization reports that women outliving men is a world-wide trend.
The hormonal changes in women are called menopause and occur generally around 50 years of age. Menopause happens when women stop menstruating and the ovaries cease to produce the estrogen hormone. Symptoms of menopause include a lower libido, vaginal dryness, fatigue and hot flashes.
In men, aging is more gradual and does not precipitate as sudden a change as aging does in women. Testosterone levels decline slowly, a process called andropause. Testosterone drops about 1 percent per year after 30 years of age. Lowered testosterone produces changes such as reduced libido, erectile dysfunction and changes in sleep patterns. Whereas menopause ends fertility for women, men can create sperm and reproduce into old age.
Regarding the aging process for men and women in skin signs of aging, the beauty industry focuses on women because of the pressures in society for women to look young. There are anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, and pro-youth creams and treatments, all focused on women. The International Dermal Institute reports that male skin is less susceptible to signs of aging. Testosterone in men actually thickens their skin, making men’s skin 25 percent thicker than the skin of women.
Men also have more collagen, which makes their skin denser, and gives it a rougher texture. Since men usually sweat more than women, their skin has more moisture and more lactic acid. Collagen is the connective tissue in the skin. Both sexes lose their collagen starting at age 30 at about the same rates. In women, after menopause, the rate accelerates for approximately 5 years and then slows back down. On the other hand, men’s skin ages gradually. Women are more apt to use sun screen protection on their faces. Many skin care products for women have moisturizers or sun protection factors in them.
The so-called middle-age spread is a real problem, with a gradual loss of lean muscle after 30 years of age. According to the National Institute of Health, men and women have different patterns of weight gain. Men generally gain weight until their middle 50s, at which time their weight starts to drop off again. The drop in weight at this time is due to drops in testosterone, which sustained muscle tissue. Women typically gain weight for an additional decade, until 65 years. Then women start to lose weight, often because of loss of muscle.
Hair loss varies for men and women. Patterns of baldness affect more men than women. About half of men have some hair loss by age 50. Hereditary hair loss generally occurs by age 40. Rarely, women can experience pattern baldness. Usually women have finer or thinner hair rather than baldness.
According to Samantha Olson, who writes for Medical Daily, aging patterns differ for men and women in mind, body and emotional capacity. According to the World Health Organization, the aging patterns for men and women depend on the society in which someone was raised and someone’s smoking, alcohol abuse, infectious disease, poverty, nutrition, access to education, work conditions, health care, and violence history.
Puberty is a significant process in the life of an adolescent. In girls, puberty stages range from 10 to 14. In boys, puberty generally ranges from 12 to 16 years. The hormones generated in puberty cause changes in voice, acne, height, weight and muscle development.
According to WebMD, men think about sex at least once a day until the age of 60. Both men and women fantasize about sex, the average man fantasizing about twice as often as women. As people age, both genders think about sex less often.
As women reach 40 years, they become more focused on appearance. In a study of women age 40, 33 percent were worried about sagging, wrinkling, and changes in weight. Thus, women start to turn to plastic surgery, Botox injections and tummy tucks. With men, only 21 percent were concerned about how they looked in aging.
After 50 years of age, men and women seek happiness differently. Men cope with new changes less well than women. With women, after 50 years, their rates of depression, suicide and anxiety diminish. With older age, women develop more coping skills, ability to listen, empathy, patience and courage to seek out new endeavors.
Dr. Susan Nolaw-Hocksema, a Yale Professor of psychology, stated in “Psychology Today” that old age in women is about flourishing. Most women feel greater senses of fulfillment and self-actualization as they age. The longevity for women is five years longer than that for men. However, regarding quality of life, men who are centenarians have better health than women. For men, 32 percent who live to be 100 years of age do not have major health concerns. For women who reach 100 years of age, only 15 percent are healthy.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.