Why Do Men Die First?

On average, men in the United States die approximately five years earlier than women. Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010 give women an average life expectancy of 80.4 years compared with 75.4 years for men. Why is there such a gap?

The CDC, government's main keeper of health statistics, lists the top three killers of men as:

  1. Heart disease, which claims the lives of 26.6 percent of all men who die.
  2. Cancer, which is responsible for 24.5 percent of deaths, especially lung and colorectal cancers.
  3. Unintentional injuries or accidents, which take another 6.5 percent.

Men are also susceptible to chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes.

In some ways, it seems contradictory that women live longer given that men are generally considered the stronger, more virile sex, but Marianne Legato, MD, FACP, author of Why Men Die First: How to Lengthen Your Lifespan, argues that men are actually the more fragile sex. "In spite of their superior physical strength compared to women, men are more vulnerable biologically than women and this begins in the womb. Far fewer men make it to delivery and at birth they are more developmentally delayed and suffer respiratory problems at a higher rate as well," said Dr. Legato in a YouTube video interview. "We should stop regarding them as the stronger sex."

Heart Disease

The expert who is also a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University says coronary artery disease starts in men much earlier than women, as early as their mid-30s. "Of the men with coronary artery disease, they are usually dead before the age of 65," says Dr. Legato. Of all deaths from heart disease, approximately one-fourth of those deaths are in men aged 46 to 65.


Lung and colorectal cancers also send many men to an early grave. According to the Men's Health Network, twice as many men die from lung cancer than women. Unlike other cancers, lung cancer begins in the lungs, does not spread to other organs. Smoking is a major factor in contracting this disease. Male smokers are approximately 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, and 90 percent of men's lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, according to the CDC.

More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are in people age 50 and older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends testing for the disease beginning at age 50. Testing will aid your physician in finding cancerous polyps. If detected early, they can be removed before the colorectal cancer starts to spread.

Unintentional Injuries or Accidents

Number three on the list of male killers is a category known as "unintentional injuries," which often occur due to human error and environmental factors. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death due to unintentional injury. Increased traffic, speed limits, and construction contribute to this sad statistic, but the use of cell phones, alcohol, eating in the car while driving, fatigue, and weather conditions are also factors. To reduce your chances of having a fatal car accident, wear your seat belt, don't exceed speed limits, don't drink and drive, and use common sense while on the road.

Poisonings and falls are other sources of unintentional injury. Overdosing on illegal drugs and over-the-counter medications along with accidents involving chemicals used in the home also cause deaths in this category. Fatalities often occur when men fall and injure their heads and necks.

Increase your chances of living longer with these tips:

  • Make an annual doctor appointment to allow a physician to monitor your health and recommend lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, which can make a huge difference in your health. 
  • Know your family medical history. If you are at risk for any of diseases, let your physician know. The information will likely be a factor in determining what tests you need.
  • Monitor and treat conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • If you smoke, quit. It will decrease your chances of dying from lung cancer.
  • Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other low-fat foods.
  • Eat less of red or process meat.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Doing so will greatly reduce your risks of developing heart disease and having a stroke.
  • Protect yourself at home. Remove tripping hazards such as cords or loose rugs. Take precaution when using a ladder and beware of slippery surfaces. 
  • Always use a handrail on staircases.



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Marianne Legato, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia University
YouTube interview

Men's Health

The American Academy of Family Physicians

The American Cancer Society