If you’ve ever watched an episode of Naked and Afraid, you’re well aware that gender stereotypes about women being the weaker sex are still very much alive and well—even though it’s the female participants who consistently do better than their male counterparts. One producer told Elle that “overall, the women seem to be more badass than the men.”
History confirms that women are definitely more badass than men: According to a recently published study, women historically have lived longer than men in extremely harsh conditions, including famines, slavery, and even measles outbreaks. As the study’s authors write, “Women are the life-expectancy champions.”
Researchers hailing from Denmark, Germany, and North Carolina, looked at seven documented populations with extremely low life expectancies, including plantation slaves in Trinidad, survivors of the Ukrainian famine in 1933, and people who lived in Iceland during two different catastrophic measles epidemics in the 1800s. After comparing the data, including mortality and life expectancy between the sexes, they found that women survived better than men.
Understandably, during these horrific times, the life expectancy dropped for both men and women; however, it didn’t drop as much for women. For example, during the famine in Ukraine, the average life expectancy for men before things got really bad was 41.58 years; for women, it was 45.93 years. During the crisis, those figures dropped to 7.30 and 10.85, respectively.
This “female survival advantage,” as researchers call it, was mostly due to differences in survival rates among infants—baby girls turned out to be way tougher than baby boys. In short, the study’s authors write, women’s ability to survive stems from “fundamental biological roots and is influenced by socially and environmentally determined risks, opportunities, and resources.”
In an interview with Reuters, Virginia Zarulli, an assistant professor of biodemography at the University of Southern Denmark and the study’s lead author, explained: “For infants, it’s very unlikely that behavior plays a role in mortality. Boy and girl infants tend to act the same. It was this strong theme that pointed us to our conclusion that this life expectancy advantage for women is probably deeply biological.”
“Parental attitude can influence survival,” she continued, “and we know from the literature that, at the time frame we were studying, if there was a sex preference, it usually was for boys. That’s still true in some places nowadays. So, even though everything seems to point to an advantage for boys’ survival, and despite potential discrimination against girls, which was likely, the girls survived more.”
The study notes that sex hormones may have something to do with it: Estrogens, the authors write, “have anti-inflammatory, vasoprotective effects” and “enhance immune defenses.”
For women, the takeaway from this study’s findings is clear: You will, in fact, survive planning your wedding—it’s in your hormones—and probably so much more.