Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Life expectancy: women now on top everywhere

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 06 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:808

Rapid Response:

Sexist "Celebration"

With distress I read your editorial titled “Life expectancy: women
now on top everywhere”; from its coquettish title to the inflammatory
quote by Timothy Leary, proponent for the therapeutic and spiritual
benefits of LSD, all the way to the first sentence’s disdainful and sexist
encouragement for “at least a quiet celebration” that women can now expect
to live longer than men everywhere. Can you imagine the outcry if such a
remark in a medical journal were directed towards women—well, there’s the
politically correct point: such a hateful remark directed at women would
never be allowed.

The authors write that these “processes driving it [longer life
expectancy for women] cannot be purely biological: they relate primarily
to social change.” Yet they go on right past the proverbial elephant
standing in the room when they state: “In a way, women's life expectancy
is an indicator of how well everyone can do.”

As reported in the BBC (1), the authors “put the changes down to
reductions in childbirth deaths, and the fact that more men smoke.”

Do the authors choose to ignore data indicating men carry the brunt
and burden of this “social change”. To name three: Significantly more men
than women are likely to suffer military deaths, work-related fatalities,
and—the ultimate “social disease”—suicide.

Nearly all combat-related deaths are men. Here in the United States,
the Selective Service laws still discriminate against men; only men when
they turn 18 are required by law to register. US military deaths from
principal wars, from 1775 to 1973, totaled more than 708,000, with female
deaths negligible (2); female combat deaths in Iraq are currently 2.2%

A 2005 report by the International Labor Organization stated: “Men
occupy a large majority of hazardous jobs and therefore they suffer some
80% of occupational deaths. In high-income countries this figure is
86%.”(4) Here in the US, 93% of work fatalities are men (5).

And it is no secret how “successful” men are at suicide attempts (6).
The World Health Organization reports that, across all age groups, men
commit suicide at a rate of 3-5 times higher than women.

Finally, perhaps we all could take a simple lesson from basic
numbers: how much is being said about a topic? Search the archives of the
British Medical Journal on “men’s health”, from April 1994 to April 2006,
and you’ll have 82 items returned. Do the same search on “women’s health”
and you’ll get 640 results, a nearly 8-fold number.

In the US, there is a federally funded Office of Women’s Health whose
sole purpose is “promoting research, information, and service to women's
health”, yet no corresponding office exists for men’s health. Curious,
considering the wide disparities between the genders in life expectancies,
combat deaths, work fatalities, and suicide rates.

Rather than snide editorials about celebrations over one sex living
longer than another, shouldn’t a medical journal be interested in
publishing information that we all can use to better our communities, our
world? After all, how much more celebrating of women’s health can men


1. Women 'outliving men worldwide'. Available at: Accessed April 11, 2006.

2. US Military Operations: Casualty Breakdown. Available at: Accessed on
April 11, 2006.

3. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count: Female Fatalities. Available at: Accessed April 11, 2006.

4. Introductory Report: Decent Work – Safe Work. XVIIth World
Congress on Safety and Health at Work (Orlando, 18-22 Sep. 2005).
International Labour Organization 2005. Available at:
Accessed April 11, 2006.

5. Table A-7. Fatal occupational injuries by worker characteristics
and event or exposure, All United States, 2004. Available at: Accessed on April 11,

6. Distribution of suicide rates (per 100,000), by gender and age,
2000. Available at:
Accessed on April 11, 2006.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

12 April 2006
Robert A. Jacoby
Editor, The Pop Reporter
Johns Hopkins University