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Mostly men: Why they die young

  • Nearly two in three deaths among 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide in 2019 were among men, new research shows.
  • The leading causes of deaths among young men varied across age and region and included accidents, cancer and diseases caused by contaminated food and water.
  • Researchers say the widening gender gap in deaths has been driven by governments not investing enough resources in addressing the reasons behind young men’s deaths.

Boys and men are more likely than women to die as teenagers or young adults, according to new research that warns the gender gap in mortality rates for that age group is widening in many countries.

In 2019, nearly two thirds (61%) of all deaths among 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide occurred in males, said the research published in The Lancet last week.

Since 1950, mortality rates in males aged 10 to 24 have decreased by 15.3%, lagging behind improvements in female mortality rates, which decreased by 30% in this age group.

What are the leading causes of death among young men? 

Differences in mortality were greatest in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the mortality rate in men aged 20 to 24 was more than three times that for women. Interpersonal violence and conflict were the leading cause of death for men aged 15 to 24 in this region, where, over the past 20 years, there has been little to no improvement in mortality for this age group, according to the research.

Leading causes of death for men in 2019 varied according to age and region. In men aged 10 to 14, most deaths were due to accidents in all regions except high-income ones, where cancer was the leading cause, and south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where it was diseases from consuming contaminated food or water. In men aged 15 to 24, the most common cause of death was “transport injury” in almost all regions.

The research said that widening gender inequities in many regions have been driven by poor progress in addressing the leading causes of death for boys and young men.

Joseph Ward, of University College London’s Child Health Institute, one of the authors of the research, said: “High numbers of deaths in males indicate increases in the proportion of deaths due to violence, trauma and substance misuse, which predominantly affect young males. This reflects a failure to address some of the leading causes of mortality in this age group.”

How to solve the widening gender gap in mortality rates

The report also suggested that young people in the 10–24 age group were being neglected by policymakers and that the COVID-19 pandemic would probably jeopardise efforts to improve mortality rates.

The research found that while programmes to address the social conditions in which young women live, and the impact of violence against them, were fundamental to improving adolescent health globally, boys had been left behind.

“Inequitable gender norms are also damaging to adolescent males, and advancing the health of all adolescents requires action to reduce inequities in outcomes wherever they occur,” it said.

Ward added that improvements in mortality rates in 10- to 24-year-olds generally were lagging behind other age groups. He said policymakers had failed to address the specific health risks of this age group and adolescent-specific programmes were insufficiently funded. This was highlighted by many countries having “relatively good mortality outcomes for young children, but some of the highest mortality globally in adolescent age groups”, he said.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the slowest improvements in mortality rates, added Ward, resulting in the burden of global deaths in these age groups shifting towards that region.

This feature was originally published by The Guardian’s global development project.

Sarah Johnson is a reporter focusing on human rights and global development.