Everybody knows it’s man’s world. That may be true in many areas, but not if you’re talking about life insurance premiums. Women are the rulers in this arena because insurance companies charge them lower rates than men of the same age.
So why do insurers consider men a more significant risk? The answer to that question lies in a critical element of their genetic makeup – testosterone. A surge of this hormone during adolescence is linked with a rise in violent and risky behaviors. Testosterone has also been linked with higher blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease, an weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
The other adverse effect of this adolescent testosterone boost is a lowering of the male’s levels of the female hormone oxytocin. A UCLA study titled On Friendship Among Women: An alternative to fight or flight, published in 2002, found that women are generally better at handling stress because high levels of oxytocin give them a natural advantage.
Scientists always thought fear and anxiety triggered the adrenaline hormone as part of the fight-or-flight response. It was believed to be an ancient survival mechanism left over from the caveman days when survival meant knowing which of the two actions was the more appropriate response.
However, the researchers at UCLA discovered that women have a more enormous behavioral repertoire than just fight-or-flight. When the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it decreases the urge to choose between fight or flight. It encourages the female to choose a third alternative, finding other women with whom she can share her anxiety. This action counters the stress and produces a calming effect.
This calming response does not occur in men because testosterone, which men produce at high levels when under stress, only presents them with the two alternatives of fight-or-flight. Their low level of oxytocin eliminates the third alternative of finding other men to commiserate with.
In addition to biology, there’s also a sociological component in explaining shorter life spans. Society has traditionally pressured young men to compete, causing them to take part in risky behaviors to gain dominance.
Death in older men can generally be linked to diseases that result from the behaviors begun in youth, from smoking to heavy drinking to overeating. That’s why men usually have a higher rate of dying from cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, strokes, and pulmonary disease.
Despite biological and sociological factors, men aren’t necessarily destined to remain high insurance risks. Assessing risky behaviors early on, and taking action to correct them, will extend a man’s life expectancy. The healthier a man is, the easier it will be to find suitable life insurance coverage at an affordable price.