HEMOX - The male-female health-mortality paradox

From the 1960s to the 1980s a common wisdom about differences between males and females in health and mortality emerged which was summarised by the well-known phrase "women are sicker, but men die quicker". Recently this wisdom has been increasingly questioned. Nevertheless, the general idea of a paradoxical relationship between health and mortality among women and men persists until today. The purpose of this project is to decisively advance the understanding of the paradox by demonstrating that the reverse relationship between sex on the one side and health and mortality on the other is not as paradoxical as it seems. We hypothesise that two factors are mainly responsible for causing this intuitive contradiction. First, the overall reversal in sex morbidity and sex mortality differentials occurs because conditions that figure importantly in morbidity are not very important in mortality, and vice versa. Second, it is very likely that longevity is directly related to the absolute number of life years in ill health. Thus, women show higher morbidity rates not because they are female but because they are the sex with higher life expectancy. In this project we will test these hypotheses in a "natural experiment" by analysing the relationship between health and mortality among Catholic nuns and monks from Austria and Germany in comparison to women and men of the general population by means of a multi-wave health survey. Using demographic, epidemiologic and psychological methods, this study will analyse and explain the differences in health and mortality between (1) nuns and women of the general population, (2) monks and men of the general population, and (3) nuns and monks in comparison to those found between women and men of the general population.

European Research Council