Getting older

Men feel better about aging than women, study shows

A study of 19,800 people in Japan finds that while women may live longer, they may be less happy about it than men.

Man Looking in a Mirror
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No matter what age we are, some days you just feel old.

With every new TikTok dance craze and each fresh-faced, teen pop idol who makes more money than you ever will, the urge to grumble can get stronger — but there’s a difference between being old and feeling old. As for getting old, at least we’re all in it together, right?

Well, not exactly. The experience of aging may depend on your gender — and we’re not just talking about the fact that women are the target for most anti-aging elixirs and cosmetics or the fact older men are traditionally seen as authority figures in society.

Rather, there is now quantifiable evidence to suggest that men really do have a sunnier outlook on aging than do women — and in turn, they are also more interested in staying alive for longer. This may be the first empirical study to examine individual attitudes toward aging in our super-aging society.

What’s new — A study from Tokyo’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE looked at the gender disparity in individual attitudes toward longevity in Japan.

Research shows women tend to outlive men, yet these data suggest men are more inclined to embrace aging with open arms. Female study participants were 15 percent less likely than their male counterparts to believe longevity is a good thing.

Stacy Andersen tells Inverse that this is the first study she knows about of attitudes toward aging that breaks down attitudes toward aging by gender. Andersen is a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and was not involved in this study. She studies people in the U.S. who live to be 100, and she was surprised to find that she’s seen similar results in her work.

“I wouldn't say there were findings that surprised me, it more confirmed things that we would expect,” Andersen says. “I was surprised that the findings are so similar between the two countries.”

Why it matters — The world’s population — and especially the populations of Japan and the U.S. — is both getting older and living longer. We’re all going to get old, but we don’t exactly have a healthy view of aging. Understanding why women might be less likely to embrace a long life can help social scientists better prepare for an older society.

A super-aged society is one in which more than 20 percent of the population is 65 years or older. In 2009, Japan already had the highest proportion of people — 23 percent — aged 65 or more of any country in the world. The United States will likely become a super-aged society by 2030, according to some predictions.

“Understanding people’s outlook on aging — especially in the U.S. where there’s a more negative outlook on aging — can give us a lot of information on the next steps of how to get people to view aging more in a more positive outlook,” Andersen says.

A positive outlook can improve an individual’s quality of life.

In general, men in Japan are more likely to have a positive view of aging than women in Japan.

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How they did it — The researchers used existing data from the July 2017 National Survey on Social Security and People’s Life, a survey implemented every five years in Japan. In this dataset, they examined responses from 9,446 men and 10,354 women aged more than 18 years old living in Japan, making a total of 19,800 participants.

The study also examined other factors such as each person’s physical and mental health, financial conditions, and social networks.

The researchers also estimated how likely someone was to have a sunny view of aging.

Of all the participants, 68.8 percent (more than 13,600 people) agreed with the statement “longevity is a good thing.” But women were 15 percent less likely to agree than men. Andersen says that while the margin of 15 percent is small, it’s still statistically significant.

Digging into the details — In her own research, Andersen says that women are more likely to live to 100 than men, but men are more likely to live to 100 in healthy conditions.

Of the centenarians she’s studied, 85 percent are women and 15 percent are men. She says part of the disparity may be down to the fact that females may be more likely than males to survive diseases that significantly affect their quality of life. Males, Andersen says, are twice as likely to live to 100 without health complications than women.

This isn’t the first time men have been highlighted as a population that embraces longevity. Gender iniquity, among other things, can account for this dramatic difference. There is a theory that women are less keen on living forever because they’re more likely to face daily trials and tribulations and shoulder the burden of aging more than men.

What’s next — Andersen sees these findings as an opportunity for changes for “better aging,” including improved financial and social support.

Aging well can be good for everyone, regardless of their penchant for immortality. Andersen says that only about 20 percent of longevity stems from one’s genetics.

“Eighty percent is how you treat yourself,” she adds. Unsurprisingly, her studies have shown that Americans with good habits — and especially vegetarians who exercise regularly — live on average 10 years longer than those who follow less healthy regimens.

“It certainly is showing us that it’s more and more important to identify people who don’t have those supports, and provide them so that they can have a good view of aging.”

Abstract: The unprecedented population aging brings profound influences to the social values of longevity. The individual attitudes toward the expended life time deserves scrutiny, as it reflects the impacts of social networks and social welfare on people’s life and wellbeing. This study aims to examine whether and how gender disparity is affecting the individual anticipation to longevity among Japanese citizen. We used the dataset of National Survey on Social Security and Peoples Life implemented in 2017 to calculate the odds ratios (OR) of the individual anticipation to longevity. Besides gender, other demographic characteristics, physical and mental health, the experience of nursing care for the elderly, financial conditions and social networks are examined by performing the multilevel mixed-effects logistic regression analysis. The results indicate the robust effects of gender disparity on the individual aspiration for longevity. The proportion of those who inclined the positive statement on longevity was estimated to be 69.7% (95% CI: 68.6% - 70.9%) in the whole population, and 70.9% (95% CI: 69.4% - 72.5%) and 68.7% (95% CI: 67.1% - 70.2%) in male and female, respectively. Besides gender, independent factors significantly affecting the individual valuation of longevity include age, annual household income, the experience of nursing care, household saving, having a conversation with others and the availability of reliable partner(s) for relevant supports; while the common factors affecting the outcome variable were self-perceived health status and mental distress measured by K6. The interaction of gender and these significant factors were determined as well. In conclusion, with relevant representativeness and quality of data source, this analysis adds knowledge on gender disparity in the individual anticipation on longevity. The findings are suggestive to reform the social security system in the super aged society.
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