By Peter Laird, MD
Historically, during the twentieth century, women lived longer than men by an average of over five years. Finally, the statisticians are now offering men a ray of hope that they will actually live as long as their mates. Projecting current trends predicts a convergence of life expectancies for men and woman in the year 2030.
Heart disease classically affects men about tens years earlier than woman providing a partial answer as to why women live longer on average than men in the western nations. Improvements in the treatment of heart disease is also at the center of the projected convergence. The good news for women is that their life expectancy is also continuing to increase, just not as rapidly as men. That is the good news for all concerned.
The bad news is that the increased longevitys will pose more burdens upon the health care system. Medicare beginning at the age of 65 was initiated at a time when the average life span was not much longer than the retirement age itself. Today, many in their mid-sixties are still actively engaged and turn retirement into a time of leisure activities and travel. Improvements in health care are behind the progressive increase in longevity, but likewise comes at the price of ever increasing health care costs. While the convergence of longevity is good news for men, those that calculate actuarial costs in health care are left with one more paradox brought about by our own success in modern medicine.
In a time of ever increasing budget constraints especially in health care, the costs of living longer may in itself adversely affect these trends. No one can predict the future with any degree of accuracy, but I would rather have to deal with living longer and wondering how to pay to stay alive, than to not have to worry about the latter issue. Sadly, there is no convergence expected for when men will be as intelligent as women as my wife will readily attest.