Let me begin with some startling data:
– Suicide deaths per 100K for men is 31 and for women 9.8 (45-65) and 32.5 for men to 5.2 for women (65+).
– Drug overdoses among men have historically outnumbered those among women by a large margin.
– In 2019 69% of deaths from drug overdoses were men,
– Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, and illicit drug use is more likely to result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths for men than for women.
– The New York Times reported on a city traffic study that revealed four of every five serious or fatal vehicle/pedestrian accidents in New York City were caused by male drivers.
– Traffic studies from around the world have consistently shown higher accident rates among men,
– Studies also show that male pedestrians are more likely to be hit by a car.
– The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said about 80% of people who die from drowning are male.
– According to a recent study by Consumer Products Safety Commission, boys are especially at risk of drowning at twice the rate of girls – 68 percent vs. 32 percent. Boys are also more likely than girls to be hospitalized for nonfatal drowning incidents.
The reflex answer to explain this data is that males, regardless of age, are more likely to take risks than females. That’s not to say that there aren’t risk takers and adrenaline junkies among the female population but they are just not as prevalent as their male counterparts. Research provides ample evidence that testosterone is the culprit for the excessive risk taking among men. This is especially true for adolescent males between 14 and 17 who are experiencing their hormonal surge without the inhibiting mechanism of a fully formed prefrontal cortex.
However, I believe the explanation is more complex than just a male hormone. For example, when delving into the research on drowning, part of the explanation for the preponderance of male fatalities was men trying to be heroes by jumping into unsafe waters to rescue someone who appeared to be drowning. The takeaway is that the male energy to be heroic – to protect – was as much a motivator to jump as risk taking.
Excessive deaths among men as a result of substance abuse is also more than male risk taking. Granted, that especially for younger men, seeking a high while disregarding the potential danger is linked to risk taking. However, men in later life seem to drift towards drugs more for relief rather than for the thrill of a high. Unemployment, divorce and depression can often result in seeking escape in controlled substances, or in the extreme, escape to suicide. With the scandalous over prescribing of opioids, and the arrival of fentanyl in the street drug scene, addiction has become increasingly deadly. Certainly women are also affected by societal and personal pressures and look to seek relief from drugs. But in general women do pay more attention to their overall health and especially to their mental health. Furthermore, women tend to have stronger social bonds than men, especially in the later years of life, which builds the resilience needed to fend off the pressures and disappointments that life brings.
The bottom line is that if we just focus on the simple answer to excessive male mortality that men are prone to take risks we are essentially saying that there is nothing we can do about it and just accept the inevitable. When we dig deeper, and understand the positive aspect of male energy – to protect- and the dark side of manliness – to suppress vulnerability – and help men live in the best of masculinity maybe we can find ways to better channel the positive and give men the tools to increase their emotional resilience and enhance their lives.