Lack of mates may cut short a man’s life

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Maybe it’s the stress of competing for every potential date, or the feeling that you’ve settled for second best. But new research this month suggests that coming of age in an environment where men outnumber women might be so stressful that it affects men’s health even decades after puberty has run its course.

Writing in the August issue of the journal Demography, researchers from Hong Kong and the U.S. show that 1950s Wisconsin men who graduated in classes with a high ratio of male students to female students went on to face elevated death rates nearly 50 years later, relative to the men who graduated in classes with a less skewed sex ratio.

That same finding also appears to hold in the rest of the country. Among men registering for U.S. Social Security Numbers  between 1930 and 1950,  those who lived in a state with lots of competition for girls — that is, in a state with a high ratio of young unmarried men to young unmarried women — also went on to face higher death rates in old age than men who grew up with less competition for mates. The difference: about three months of life expectancy at age 65. 

Women can relax. In the Wisconsin study, for example, women’s death rates were almost totally uncorrelated with sex ratios back in high school. It would seem that a longevity penalty of competing for mates only applies to men.