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Being a man in Australia

On average the life expectancy for men is around 4 years lower than for women.

In 1900 the difference in life expectancy was just over three years so although our overall standard of living has improved, men’s life expectancy hasn’t shared the same improvement.

We tend to think that women enjoy longer lives than men because they have a different physical makeup and maybe have a different work environment to men. Their bodies are more robust to cope with childbirth and they have to go for regular check-ups at the doctors for ‘women’s health issues’

Seems like a plausible explanation but the reality of life expectancy differences are somewhat different!

Some men's health facts

Male deaths outnumber female deaths in every age group apart from the over 65 years and only because so many men die before reaching retirement. Compared to women, men visit the doctor less frequently, have shorter visits and only attend when their illness is in its later stages.  

Top 10 causes of premature death in men

Data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 tells us that the leading causes of ill-health for Australian men include, in order from first to last:

  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Trachea and lung cancer
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon and rectum cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Blood and lymph cancer including leukaemia
  • Suicide
Some deaths are more likely for men than women

Some causes of death are related to gender. For example a man can't die from ovarian cancer as only women have ovaries and a woman can't die from prostate cancer as only men have a prostate gland.

However men outnumber women in a number of non-gender related deaths. For example;

  • Suicide – 75 percent of deaths are male
  • Trachea and lung cancers – 60 percent are male
  • Blood and lymph cancers (including leukaemia) – 58 per cent of deaths are male
  • Ischaemic heart disease -  57 per cent of deaths are male
  • Colon and rectum cancers – 55 percent of deaths are male
Why are women healthier than men?

Some of the theories

Women have much larger and more reliable social networks than men. Women tend to be in touch with their feelings and with other women, and have a remarkable ability to express their thoughts and emotions. Strong relationships and good communication seem to help explain why women live longer.

Women are more likely to have regular contact with doctors because of reproductive issues such as menstrual periods, contraception and pregnancy. Men don’t have a similar reason that requires them to regularly see a doctor and may feel uncomfortable visiting doctors.

Men are traditionally encouraged to do the high risk jobs that are stressful, dangerous and deadly such as mining, logging and construction.

 ‘Macho men’

Men in Western societies such as Australia are less inclined to seek professional help for problems, particularly those of an emotional nature. Some of the social and cultural reasons for this include:

  • The Western definition of masculinity includes strength and silence. Men may feel it is a sign of femininity to seek help. 
  • From boyhood on, males take more risks than females often acting as if they are invulnerable. This can lead to destructive behaviours such as drug or alcohol binges or reckless driving with young men often paying the price in terms of trauma, injury, and death.

The importance of employment

Research has demonstrated a direct link between employment status and men’s health issues. Issues include:

  • A man’s self-esteem is closely linked to his role as breadwinner. Unlike women, men aren’t as strongly encouraged to find self-worth in the roles of parent and homemaker.
  • Unemployment puts great financial and emotional strain on a family. The man as breadwinner may feel burdened with guilt and shame. Men without trades who go from one unskilled job to another are more likely to feel devastated by periods of unemployment.
  • Men who feel in control of their lives are more likely to look after their health. Men who are unemployed often feel helpless.

Lifestyle

Smoking:   It's the riskiest of all health habits. In the old days, men smoked but women didn't. When women began to smoke in large numbers, they started to catch up to men in heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema.

Alcohol and substance abuse:  Like smoking, drinking and drug abuse are traditionally male problems that are increasingly threatening to women as well. Sadly males dominate in these self-destructive habits.

Diet: In most cases, women eat a healthier diet than men. Less than one in thirty Australian men are meeting the fruit and vegetable intake guidelines.

Exercise:  Low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for chronic conditions. People who do insufficient physical activity have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Being physically active improves mental and musculoskeletal health and reduces risk of and helps control other risk factors such as overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

Male depression

  • One out of every eight Australian men suffers from depression at any given time.
  • Teenagers and the elderly are particularly at risk.
  • Male depression is associated with an increased risk of health disorders such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • Men are likely to resort to destructive behaviours in an attempt to deal with depression.
  • Depressed men are twice as likely as depressed women to abuse alcohol and drugs. Men often try to manage their symptoms of depression by using alcohol and other drugs which make the symptoms worse.
  • Depression is a known high risk factor for suicide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics men of all ages suicide at a higher rate than women.  

Talk to someone

Lifeline WA 131 114

Suicide Helpline 1800 191 919

Men’s Health Response Line 1300 555 788

Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline 9223 1199 
or Free Call 1800 000 599 

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