Do Women or Men Age Faster and Better?

A Look at Hormones, Bodily Changes, and Life Expectancy

Females, overall, live longer than males. But who ages faster? Who ages better? A lot of variables go into life expectancy and how you look, feel, and function as you age.

This article explores the differences in aging between the two most common sexes, considering life expectancy, appearance, healthcare use, hormones, sexual function, and brain aging.

Senior couple dancing in living room
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Beyond Male and Female

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. However, the studies cited in this article have looked only at cis males and cis females. It's difficult to extrapolate from them how being trans or elsewhere on the sex/gender spectrum would affect your life expectancy, overall health, and experience of aging—especially if you've had hormone therapy and/or fully transitioned.

Life Expectancy

It's a simple fact that, almost everywhere in the world, females live longer than males. Experts have different theories for this.

One theory is that males die younger because they often participate in more dangerous activities and tend to have more dangerous occupations, like being in the armed forces. Statistially, that explains some, but not all, of the differences.

POPULATION LIFE EXPECTANCY
All Americans 77.8 years
Males 75.1 years
Females 80.5 years 
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Healthcare

Another theory is that females are more likely to go to healthcare providers for preventive care or when something might be wrong. That means their medical problems may be diagnosed earlier, giving them a better chance of recovering.

If this theory is accurate, seeing their healthcare providers more often may help males live longer.

Cancer Screenings

Regardless of your biological sex, you need screening for cancers that affect your reproductive organs. The tool at Healthfinder.gov shows what's recommended for you.

Appearance

It's a stereotype that men age "better" than women. However, there is some science behind this.

It has to do with collagen, a protein found in skin and connective tissues. It's what makes your skin elastic, which is associated with how young you look. The human body loses collagen as it ages, which is why skin takes on a different appearance.

Males lose collagen earlier and more consistently throughout life. Females tend to keep more until menopause, when they lose it at a dramatic rate.

So while males slowly, gradually look older, females have a more marked change in how old they look.

Sex Hormones

Sex hormones affect how you age. Both male and female hormones decline as you get older.

It's a bit misleading to label hormones as male or female, as everyone has some of each type, but at varying levels determined by biological sex.

Androgens

Male hormones are called androgens. The primary androgen—testosterone—helps regulate muscle mass, bone mass, and overall physical function. As it drops off, you naturally become weaker and less able to perform physical feats. It's also tied to:

  • Increased belly fat
  • Balance problems
  • Higher fall risk
  • More frequent injuries

Additionally, it can contribute to chronic conditions such as:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney and liver disease

The more testosterone levels drop in males, the shorter the lifespan.

In females, androgens play a role in the production of estrogens, which are the primary female hormones. So declining androgen levels lead to declining estrogen levels. They're also linked to:

  • Impaired sexual function
  • Lessened physical performance
  • Weight gain
  • Cognitive declines
  • Emotional changes
  • Bone loss

Researchers still have much to learn about the role of testosterone on female health.

Estrogens

For most of their lives, females have about four times more estrogens than males.

In females, estrogens are responsible for:

  • Development of reproductive organs
  • Growth of the uterine lining (endometrium)
  • Sexual and reproductive function
  • How your body uses carbohydrates and other fats

In males and females, estrogens:

  • Lower the inflammatory response to injuries
  • May protect against oxidative stress, which is believed to contribute to many chronic illnesses
  • Protect against muscle damage and promote muscle repair
  • Enhance growth and recovery of cells
  • Play a role in muscle strength and nervous system health
  • Maintain bone health

All of these functions decline as estrogen production drops. In males, that happens gradually. Meanwhile, during the first year of menopause, females lose about 80% of their estrogen production.

Once again, males make slow progress toward the problems of advancing age while post-menopausal females take a dramatic step.

Sexual Function

Given the close ties between sex hormones and sexual function, it should come as no surprise that male sexuality changes slowly while female sexuality changes significantly after menopause.

The common belief that male sexuality peaks at 18 and female sexuality peaks much later is true. Male testosterone levels are highest at 18 and then steadily drop for the next several decades.

For females, sexual desire increases just before estrogen levels (and fertility) begin to drop. This generally starts in the late 20s and continues until perimenopause (the hormonal shift that happens before menstrual cycles stop), which is generally in the 30s or 40s.

Males and females both see drops in sexual interest in their 50s because of physical changes due largely to hormones. That can lead to:

Even so, sex drive and sexual function generally remain strong through the 50s. For many people, serious declines in sexual desire and performance come in their 60s or later.

Importance of Sex

In one study, 40% of woman over 60 had a low sex drive but still said sex was an important aspect of their lives.

Brain Aging

Brain aging is also different for males and females. Everyone's brain shrinks with age, and the brain's metabolism slows down, as well.

In both cases, changes appear to happen faster to the male brain. According to a 2019 study, the average male brain is about three years older than the average female brain.

Cognitive impairment appears to have different causal factors for males and females, as well. It's more common in men who:

  • Are overweight
  • Have diabetes
  • Have had a stroke

It's more common in females who:

  • Are dependent on others for daily tasks
  • Lack a strong social network

While researchers can make these generalities, they note that the course of natural brain aging varies significantly from one person to the next.

Other Factors

Many other factors affect your lifespan plus how you look, feel, and function as you age. They include:

  • Genetics
  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle (socioeconomic status, sleep quality, physical activity levels, etc.)
  • Environment (where you work, where you live, the amount of pollution you're exposed to, etc.)

Of those, genetics is the only one you can't change. To improve the others, start by talking to your healthcare provider about what healthy changes you can make.

Centenarians and Aging

People who live to the age of 100 or beyond are called centenarians. Studies suggest females are more likely than males to live that long.

Among centenarians, research has found some sex-based differences:

  • 24% of male centenarians and 43% of female centenarians are “survivors.” (They survived at least one age-related illness before age 80.)
  • 32% of males and 15% of females are "escapers." (They haven't had any major health conditions.)
  • 44% of males and 42% of females are "delayers." (They didn't have any major diagnoses until after age 80.)

Males who make it to 100 are much more likely to have escaped age-related health issues, while female centenarians appear better able to endure long-term illness.

Summary

When it comes to different aspects of aging, males fare better in some regards and females do better in others.

Females tend to have longer lives (even making it to 100 more often), a "younger" brain age, and more frequent visits to healthcare providers, which may mean diagnosing illnesses earlier.

In appearance and sexual function, males tend to have slow, gradual declines. Females tend to have rapid declines after menopause.

Many factors influence how you age. Some of them are out of your control, such as genetics and declining hormone levels. Others—including nutrition, lifestyle, and environment—you may be able to change.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do men age better than women?

    Males tend to hold on to a more youthful appearance longer than females. This is because they lose collagen—a protein in skin that keeps it hydrated and elastic—more gradually.

  • How much longer do women live than men?

    In the U.S., females live around five years longer than males. According to the National Vital Statistics System, female's life expectancy is 80.5 years, while male's is 75.1 years.

  • Why do women live longer than men?

    Researchers believe behavior and hormones play a role in lifespan differences. For example, males are statistically more likely than females to smoke and engage in other risky behavior. In addition, higher estrogen levels may help females combat heart disease and higher cholesterol levels.

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15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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