The Reason Women Live Longer Than Men May Be Down To Mitochondrial DNA

The average life expectancy for a woman is greater than for a man in almost every country in the world and it does not just occur in humans. A similar pattern can be found in many other species too! There have been many theories hypothesised as being the reason behind this difference including more active female immune functioning, protective effect of oestrogen, compensatory effects of the second X chromosome, reduction in the activity of growth hormone and the influence of oxidative stress but the majority of them are based on minimal evidence.

The most recent reasoning behind the differing lifespan of men and women which is ~4-5 years on average is based on mitochondrial DNA mutations. Mitochondria are vital to our existence because they are the ‘power house’ cells of the body, responsible for providing us with energy for everything from breathing to muscle contraction.

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from our mother’s. Mitochondria tend to harbour mutations which are more harmful to men than women. This is because mutations harmful to females tend to be ‘weeded out’ in the process of natural selection as it is females who pass mitochondrial DNA to their offspring, leaving men more vulnerable to harmful mutations not dealt with by natural selection.

Whether this is irrevocably true remains to be seen, but there certainly is a biological reason behind the increased longevity of female life.

A few interesting statistics:

- The oldest recorded person ever to have lived was a French lady called Jeanne Calment who lived to the grand old age of 122 years and 164 days old!

- The average life expectancy in the UK is 78.1 years for men and 82.1 years for women.

- Around the world there are 9 times as many women over the age of 100 than there are men.


Austad SN, Why Women Live Longer Than Men: Sex Differences In Longevity, Gender Medicine, 2006, 3(2): 79-92.

Eskes T, Haanen C, Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men? European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology, 2007, 133(2): 126-33.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.


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