Why do more men die from coronavirus?
Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on April 9, 2020.
- Worldwide, men make up 58% to 71% of the people who have died from COVID-19
- Experts do not know exactly why men are more likely to die from COVID-19 but suspect it is a combination of a reduced immune response compared to women, genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices, or their reluctance to visit a doctor early on in the course of an illness.
As more people succumb to COVID-19, an interesting statistic is emerging: men are more likely to die from the virus.
This is a trend that is reported globally. For people dying with COVID-19 in:
- China, 64% were men, 36% were women
- Denmark, 71% were men, 29% were women
- France, 58% were men, 42% were women
- Germany, 66% were men, 34% were women
- Italy, 71% were men, 29% were women
- Iran, 59% were men, 41% were women
- Spain, 65% were men, 35% were women.
Data from New York matches this trend with men making up 62% of deaths from COVID-19 and women only 38%.
What is the reason behind more men dying?
At this stage, nobody knows, although there are several theories.
But one reason isn’t because more men get coronavirus, because, in most states in the U.S. slightly more women than men test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there are some states where the infection rate of SARS-CoV-2 swings firmly towards men, such as California, Florida, and New York, leaving a contradictory picture.
But what is consistent, is that in each state, and every country worldwide so far, more men are admitted to ICU with severe COVID-19. Possible reasons behind this include:
- Inherent differences in the way the immune system of men and women respond to infection. Research has already discovered the immune system of women elicits a much stronger response than a male’s, but experts aren’t sure why. It may be to protect developing fetuses and newborns but it comes at a consequence, women are more prone to autoimmune diseases. Estrogen may also have a protective effect against viruses in women, and having two X chromosomes (compared with men’s XY) may also make a difference.
- Men are more likely than women to smoke. Smoking is associated with a higher risk of developing pneumonia from the virus. Smoking suppresses the way our immune system responds, and research shows smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pneumonia – regardless of what respiratory virus they are exposed to. In China, nearly 50% of men smoke, compared with just 3% of women. However, this doesn’t explain why countries such as Italy have a significantly higher percentage of men dying from COVID-19, despite a more even spread of smoking across the sexes.
- Women are more likely to wash their hands. A U.S. study reported 65% of women routinely washed their hands, compared with only 31% of men. Men are also more likely to shake hands. However, this is unlikely to explain the increased death rate among men as the risk of contracting the virus for women is almost the same as it is for men.
- Men are more likely to have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes at a younger age, which increases their risk.
- Men are less likely to visit a doctor in general or acknowledge that they are sick. This could mean that by the time a man does seek help his symptoms are severe.
- Roper W. More Men Dying to COVID-19 Than Women Apr 3, 2020. Statistica. https://www.statista.com/chart/21345/coronavirus-deaths-by-gender/
- Reardon S. Infections reveal inequality between the sexes. Nature. 2016 Jun 23;534(7608):447. doi: 10.1038/534447a. PMID: 27337319 DOI: 10.1038/534447a
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