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Narrowing age-gender gap suggests new male emphasis on health care

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Summary of story from Yahoo News, May 26, 2011

The age-gender gap is narrowing in the US. According to 2010 census figures released today, women still outlive men but the number of men who are 65 and older has increased by 21 percent, almost twice the increase seen by women in the same group.

It’s a serious change in the social dynamics of a country in which longevity, widowhood and health care for seniors often have been seen as issues more important to women.

In all, the numbers highlight a nation that is rapidly ageing even as Congress debates cuts in Medicare, an issue with ramifications for the growing ranks of older men.

“We know in the past because of women’s longer life expectancy, women put more emphasis on health care issues because they lived to an older age and often had to rely on the pensions of their husbands,” said Jen’nan G. Read, an associate professor of sociology and global health at Duke University.

“I would expect men to become more aware and involved in health care now that they may be affected in the same way as women,” she said.

Mark Mather, an associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, noted that the changing gender ratios already are having a social impact.

For instance, the share of women ages 65 to 74 who are widowed dropped last year to 24 percent from 44 percent in 1960. The share of older people living alone who are female also declined, to 71 percent from 75 percent in 2000.

“If current trends continue, men’s life expectancy will approach that of women in the next few decades, creating more of a gender balance in the oldest age groups,” he said.

“This has wide implications for family relationships in old age and caretaking, with more potential partners for older women.”

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