Why Women Live Longer

happy old woman 2Some statistical facts about women-  They live longer. As of 10 years ago, only 7% of the entire prison population in the US was female. There is a significantly higher rate of Antisocial Personality Disorder among men as compared to women. Another interesting fact? The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), which is the area of the brain where anger and aggression are controlled, is larger in women than in men. A larger PFC is also correlated with higher rates of conscientiousness, better decision-making, and greater overall impulse control. Research also shows that women are better at keeping strong negative emotions in check. When a woman does act on her negative emotions, she will more often attack verbally rather than physically.

A longitudinal study began in the 1920’s by a researcher named Lewis Terman. The study began on 1,548 gifted children and the research has followed these same children long into their adult lives. Although Terman died in 1956, his work was carried on by his students, and then his students’ students, and the study is still being conducted today.  Researchers are using the data to try to answer questions about the factors that contribute to a person’s success, health, and longevity.

Almost one hundred years after the study first began, researchers have concluded that the number one predictor of longevity is what they termed, conscientiousness. Conscientiousness involves using forethought, planning, and perseverance in many aspects of life – all functions of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. It just might be that a larger Pre-Frontal Cortex can contribute to living a longer and healthier life because conscientiousness enlists self-control to make better life choices.

Conscientious people are less likely to smoke, drink heavily, abuse drugs, or engage in life threatening or risky behaviors. No wonder they live longer! These are the people that come to a complete stop at stop signs, follow doctor’s orders, and pay all their taxes. Again, these are all functions of the PFC, which is larger in women. Self-control and conscientiousness make up this week’s strength, and they bring us to the last in this series on female brain strengths, which we will cover next week: just a little bit of healthy worry.

In relation to this series of articles, some readers have responded that it seems like I am saying women are “better” than men. I want to clarify for those readers who misunderstand the point of this series. I am pointing out here statistically measured correlations and differences between men’s brains and women’s brains. At some points I might add in my own commentary, or make connections to Catholic thinking, but none of this commentary equals misandry. Some of the differences in brain structures correlate with certain behaviors that can be viewed as strengths. However, a man can perform any one of these functions that, based on brain structure, are more naturally performed by a woman. The difference is that a man might need more motivation, might use different parts of the brain, and might need more practice. If I said that a weight is curled by use of the bicep, and the bigger the bicep, the heavier the weight that can be lifted, it would not be sexist, discriminatory, or inconsequential to say, “Men, on average, have larger biceps and can therefore have the capability to curl heavier weights.” There are women who can curl the same weight, though it would probably take them longer to build the same amount of muscle (since men have more testosterone, which builds muscle) to curl the same weight. Also, some women might be able to lift the same weight if they use two hands. The final action might be the same – curling the weight – but they have arrived at it differently.  Analogously, men as people can also display the same strengths covered in these articles, but they might take longer, need more motivation, or arrive at the final action differently than how a woman does.  There are also strengths that the male brain has over the female brain.  Some of them are implicit in what we are covering in this series, since something might be a strength or weakness relative to the context.  Some of men’s strengths are separate and I will elaborate on them in the future.

“Correlation does not equal causation” is a very important distinction when we apply these brain differences to virtue. There might be some objection based on a concern that I am saying women are more virtuous than men. Let me be clear: these brain differences do not create virtue. Virtue is a description of action – which is a complex collaboration of many different systems, including, but not limited to, brain anatomy. A person may very well act virtuously but in opposition to their brain anatomy. A teenage boy with raging testosterone certainly must act against his brain anatomy at times if he is to act virtuously.

The overall take home point, as I wrote in my previous article, is that men and women are very different, though complementary. This series is based on some of the functions of the brain that, generally speaking, enable women to perform certain functions more easily or naturally than their male counterparts.

To read the previous articles in this series:

Women’s Intuition

Women’s Empathy

Women’s Collaboration

 

image: shutterstock

Dr. Greg Bottaro

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Dr. Greg Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing in Manhattan serving the greater New York Metropolitan area and many others through web conferencing. He received his Psy.D. (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school in Arlington, VA that integrates Catholic philosophy and theology with sound, empirically validated psychology. Before finishing his degree, Dr. Bottaro discerned a religious vocation with the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs). He lived almost four years in the Bronx, serving the poor in the tradition of St. Francis. These years were formative for him emotionally, spiritually, and professionally as he tested his vocation and ultimately felt the prompting of God’s will to pursue family life. Six years after leaving NYC as a friar Dr. Bottaro returned as a psychologist. His aim is fundamentally the same – to serve. Instead of serving those suffering material poverty, He now serves those with psychological needs. He blogs regularly at CatholicPsych.com.

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  • Richard III

    Once again, great article, Dr. Bottaro. And thanks for the clear explanation of your intentions. :-)

  • Poppiexno

    I have been perplexed by the feminist assertion that the behavioral differences between men and women are purely learned and that the physical differences are accidental and unimportant. If the feminists are correct, how can they explain the fact that women on average live longer than men? If longevity is “learned,” then men need to take a class in it.
    It’s true that in even Christian Western culture women were historically often treated with subjugation and prejudice. In a distorted moral view in which Eve’s sin was projected onto all women, they were sometimes considered a source of sins of impurity – a case of “she made me do it.” And in the secular arena, it’s undeniable that many men opposed women’s suffrage. I suppose the feminist position is a reaction to these past injustices; but it’s time to recognize that difference does not equate to inequality.
    God made the whole mature man and the whole mature woman the same spiritually but different physically and mentally. We should celebrate and be grateful for those differences.

  • kirk

    I knew there was a reason i’m always right!

  • John

    So how come I come across so many dorkish women as men? Theory ain’t the same as practice or reality, Doc!

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