Women are better at surviving starvation and disease than men

Women are better at surviving starvation and disease than men

When it comes to survival in the most extreme conditions women really are the strongest sex, a study of famines, epidemics and slavery has found.

It's common knowledge that the life expectancy of women in most parts of the world is significantly higher than that of the opposite gender.

New research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that even in times of high stress, females have a higher life expectancy than males.

The data covered seven populations in which people of both sexes had a hard time in 20 years or less, including starvation victims in Sweden, Ireland and Ukraine in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Among them were working and former slaves in Trinidad and the USA in the early 1800s, starvation victims in Sweden, Ireland and the Ukraine in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and Icelanders affected by the 1846 and 1882 measles epidemics.

Lead author professor Virginia Zarulli, wrote: "The conditions experienced by the people in the analysed populations were horrific".

Most of the life expectancy gender gap was due to a female survival advantage in infancy rather than adulthood, they said.

They added: 'In all populations, they had lower mortality across nearly all ages, and, with the exception of one slave population, they lived longer on average than men.

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The only exception to the trend was the Trinidadian slave trade, in which men outlived women during the early 19th century.

Prof Zarulli's team examined the freeing of American slaves back to Liberia between 1820 and 1843 - the deadliest event in recorded human history. But around 43 per cent died in their first year.

After the Irish potato starvation, life expectancy for both sexes dropped from the average 38 years to 18.17 for men and 22.4 for women.

In Europe, the life expectancy of a group of people living in Ireland was cut short by more than 15 years due to an extensive crop failure.

Traditionally, women's higher life expectancy is the result of a healthier and less violent lifestyle.

Women's life expectancy does not fall to the same level as men, with women outliving men in time of crisis such as Ireland's Potato Famine.

In Iceland, life expectancy dropped from 35.35 years to 17.86 for males, and from 40.81 years to 18.82 for females.

During Sweden's last major starvation, in 1771, abnormal weather resulted in widespread crop failures and life expectancy dropped to 17.15 years for males and 18.79 for females.

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