Friday, March 28, 2008

Tough being a bloke

Most of us are at least vaguely aware that male life-expectancy trails that of females.

But now a recent study of data in 15 developed countries has found that baby boys “are 24 percent more likely to die than baby girls.”

This is down from a peak of 31 percent in 1970, but double the rate in the days before the development of vaccines and public health measures like improved sanitation dramatically improved infant mortality rates.

It may seem counter-intuitive (or something), but the increasing gender-disparity in infant survival rates is due to historical advances in nutrition, sanitation and obstetric medicine.

“During the great historical improvements in infant mortality, the rising male disadvantage in infancy revealed a level of unexpected male vulnerability,” the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded.

“As infant mortality falls to very low levels, infant deaths become increasingly concentrated among those who are born with some weakness.”

The male disadvantage begins in utero.

Girls have a stronger immune system while boys are 60 percent more likely to be born prematurely and to suffer from respiratory problems, among others. Boys are also more likely to cause risky or difficult labor because of their larger body and head size.

When poor sanitation and nutrition weakened all babies and mothers the male disadvantage was less noticeable: from 1751 until 1870 the gender mortality gap was about 10 to 15 percent.

But the development of the germ theory dramatically cut infectious disease rates, making complications of childbirth and premature birth more common causes of death.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Caz said...

It has always been the case that more male babies are conceived and born, but more female babies survive, it's nature's way.

Interesting that better practices have improved male baby outcomes, but I would be very surprised if the natural gap can ever be closed. That's not a diabolical thing.

As with the climate, it would be conceit to believe that we can intervene to "reverse" nature in total.

29/3/08 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

"Interesting that better practices have improved male baby outcomes..."

Hmmm, but the study seems to suggest female babies' outcomes have improved better than for male babies. Or am I making a wrong inference...?

But sure, the 'natural gap' is something that can't be ameliorated; certainly not without 'eugenics' measures applied (unofficially) in, e.g., some Asian countries.

30/3/08 11:52 AM  

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