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50+: Live Better, Longer

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The New Economics of Health for Baby Boomers

Rising Health Care Costs Are Only Part of the Problems Older Americans Face

Women Get Sick, Men Die

Another issue facing an aging America is gender differences in health. Women report significantly worse health from adolescence through middle age, but at every age men are more likely to die.

Several explanations have been offered to explain this gender difference. Some say women may be "whiners" while men are "stoic" about their health. Or women suffer from medical conditions such as arthritis and back pain that make them sick, but men suffer from ones such as lung cancer and heart disease that kill them.

But new research shows that another factor may be to blame: tobacco.

Anne Case, PhD, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, says her research shows that men and women actually report about the same overall health when they suffer from the same chronic conditions.

However, when men and women have the same condition, men usually have a more severe form and spend more time in the hospital.

"For heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema, men are more likely to die than women who report same condition," says Case.

Case says all of those disorders are related to smoking, and men are more likely to develop these conditions at older ages and they also have more cumulative years of smoking than women.

But she says the bad news for women is they didn't heed Surgeon General's 1964 warning about the health hazards of smoking as fast as men, and the smoking-related differences in death rates between men and women are now narrowing as a result. Men's smoking rates have declined steadily since the 1960s, but smoking rates among women increased after the warning and only began to decline in the 1980s.

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