Staying Alive: Four Reasons Why Women Are Better Survivors Than Men

By Ben Sherwood

Men are stronger, tougher and more resilient than women. At least that's what our culture (and stereotypes) pound into our heads. Consider the hit television show "Survivor" on CBS. In 17 completed seasons, only seven women have managed to outmaneuver and outlast everyone else and win. In real life, the numbers are entirely different. Indeed, women are much better survivors than men. I discovered this surprising fact in the woods of Washington State, where the United States Air Force trains its people in the art of survival, evasion, resistance and escape (shorthand: SERE). When I asked a hard-nosed instructor if he can tell immediately who's got the survival instinct and who doesn't, his answer was unexpected. After putting countless men and women through very uncomfortable survival training - translation: wet, cold, exhausting and hungry - it turns out that women rule, especially moms. In this instructor's experience, women who have gone through childbirth frequently fare better than the most strapping aviators. Under extreme pressure and deprivation, he says, the brawniest men can crumble like blue cheese while moms hang tough.

Obviously, your chances of survival depend on specific circumstances (and men definitely possess certain physical advantages), but the Air Force instructor wanted to make a point: Moms are impressively unflinching in the face of adversity. After all, he explains, moms have handled real pain. They understand sacrifice. They're driven by a purpose greater than themselves. They're problem solvers and multitaskers. They're accustomed to delaying gratification. In short, they're very effective survivors.

If the ultimate measure of survival is who stays alive longest, here's another fact: Around the world, women out-survive men every day. In the United States, the female survival advantage is around 5.3 years.

Why are women better survivors on average? There are many reasons, including:

1. Women Play It Safer: The numbers are telling. Especially in their younger years, more men die in accidents than women. More men are murdered than women. More men commit suicide than women. During the so-called "testosterone storm," experts say, men simply do more dangerous things, like playing with guns.

2. Women Deal With Pain: Women feel more pain than men - they're more sensitive to it - but they handle it better. In fact, according to one study, women experience 40 percent more arthritis pain than men, but they cope with it more effectively, bounce back faster and are less likely to let it take over their lives. As one pain researcher says of women, "With greater vulnerability comes greater strength."

3. Women Are Better Drivers: Risking a heated argument, consider the numbers. On average, men have a 77-percent greater risk of losing their lives in a car accident than women, according to Traffic STATS. To be sure, men are cited for reckless driving 3.4 times more often than women, according to Quality Planning, a company that checks policyholder information for car insurance companies. They also get around five percent more traffic violations that result in accidents. And men are more prone to breaking speeding, passing and yielding laws. In short, guys die more often in car wrecks.

4. Women Are Just Plain Healthier:When you look at the 15 leading causes of death, men outrank women (except for Alzheimer's). Women stay alive longer because they smoke and drink less. They eat better too - especially less red meat. And they cope with stress more effectively.

Note to Men: Don't despair. The women's survival advantage has been eroding since the 1970s, especially as more women have gotten hooked on cigarettes. Experts say men - and women - can immediately increase life expectancy with a few changes. Eat right, move your body more, stop smoking and de-stress. If men want to win in the gender war of survival, it's as simple - and difficult - as that.

[Photo Credit: Amazon]