Chapter 13 aims to examine the gender gap in longevity, in which women live longer than men. Instead of finding that the gap was sex-related, they found that the gap was gender related. Femininity was protective for both men and women, while high masculinity was detrimental for both men and women. This wasn’t due to differences in poor health coping strategies, like the stereotypical masculine internalization-of-feelings-while-drinking-to-cope. Rather, it was the willingness of individuals to reach out to others and have strong social networks with deep connections, which was facilitated by more feminine tendencies. I’d like to think that this finding may become less relevant in the future. Communication of emotions and social connectedness shouldn’t feel inaccessible or awkward, even to very masculine individuals. Close social ties are something that humans genuinely need, so it is disheartening to think that gender characteristics may prevent people from accessing that as easily. I hope that continuing conversations about how femininity and masculinity–and gender roles in general–can be harmful, will help reduce this finding’s relevance in future years.
Another surprising finding was about the impact of losing a spouse. Women tended not to experience higher mortality after losing a spouse, living many years past the loss. Men had a much higher mortality risk after losing a spouse–which the authors attributed to the loss of a care-taking partner and a corresponding decrease in healthy habits/social communication. The plot twist was that widowed men with high neuroticism had their mortality risk halved compared to less neurotic men. Neuroticism generally isn’t a protective trait, but it turned out to be very helpful for widowed men. I thought this was super interesting because it showed how much personality and life events interact to influence wellness. It also showed that even the traits we commonly perceive as “bad” can serve a very useful purpose during certain periods of life. I wouldn’t say I’m extremely neurotic, but I am pretty cognizant of my health and I worry about it. At the same time, I also have reliable, supportive social ties that I can count on. Hopefully these things will serve me well some day!