Do women ‘age’ more easily than men?
Anna Quindlen, speaking in a recent CBC interview, observed that women have an easier way of aging than men. She attributed this to women’s capacity to re-invent themselves. Typically, they are girls, then young women, then wives and then mothers. In each of these roles they learn how to present themselves to the world and how to engage based on cultural expectations.
In the past few decades women have achieved success in almost every profession. They have ventured into space, have led governments, and have made their mark in business. For the most part, their career accomplishments occurred while they continued to keep the home fires burning. These diverse expectations demanded concurrent balancing of multiple roles.
Since it’s commonly recognized that women live longer than men, managing the process of aging is important. The factors that might lead to an easier aging process for women include the following:
Women’s choices throughout life affect aging. Education, general health, labour force participation, marital status and having children will affect a woman’s socioeconomic status and financial independence, both of which affect how well and how easily a woman will age.
Women know how to adjust as their lives evolve. The adjustments that come with aging happen naturally. Constant re-creation of their lives is a norm for women as they make the courageous decisions involved with various life stages.
Contrary to popular belief, women know the basics of managing finances. They know how to manage a household budget even if the terminology of the financial world is unfamiliar. This is an important skill especially if retirement income is less than expected to keep up a desired lifestyle.
After a certain age, conspicuous consumption becomes unimportant. Social status as determined by income or accumulated wealth means less as successful aging depends more on health than wealth. Older women find ways to live well on less money.
Women have learned how to develop and maintain relationships. Older people — both men and women — experience many losses. Spouses/partners die, children move long distances away, and friendships change — especially after retirement.
Because women have more meaningful and more extensive social relationships, they fall less often into deep wells of loneliness. They use well-developed social skills to make new connections when relationships are fractured through loss. Their social networks help insulate them from loneliness, isolation or lack of companionship.
Women have learned to accept changes in their bodies. Female body experiences involve menstruation, pregnancy, child-birth and menopause. Such experiences may account for the societal differences in health seeking behaviour of men and women.
Since women are more sensitive and attentive to their bodies and their health throughout life, the body changes that are part of the natural process of aging are less threatening and more easily accepted.
As I write this post I am acutely aware that these conclusions reflect the thoughts of a middle class woman living in a safe society.
I am also aware that male roles have changed during the past few decades. Younger men take more responsibility in the home and are more involved with child-rearing. Expressing emotion and valuing family time is more common in younger men. Hopefully these changes will help them as they move through their lives.
Regardless of gender, aging is difficult — emotionally, mentally, and physically. While comparisons are easy, they aren’t always correct. Please don’t read this post as the beginning of a battle of the sexes. Because aging is a life long process, protecting health and practising healthy living pays off regardless of gender.