Healthy Living

Why Are Men Three Times As Likely To Drown As Women?

night swimming
Research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates the disproportionate representation of men in drowning incidents is nothing new, and that men have been struggling with the increased risk for decades. kteague / Flickr

New statistics suggest that the relative longevity of women compared to men may not be purely genetic. Although several biological factors may account for shorter male lifespans, a few years are bound to be shaved off by the truism that guys, unfortunately, will be guys.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a menacing report indicating that men drown three times more often than women. Despite similar lifestyles and equal access to water, guys are apparently much more likely to die from contact. While the graph shows a statistical chasm between genders in all age groups, the data peaks in the 15-24 cohort, where men are almost six times as likely drown. Why?

The Washington Post reports that the jarring statistics can be explained by a variety of factors. Most of these factors are entirely preventable, as they appear to result exclusively from guys doing guy stuff. For example, men are much more likely to engage in aquatic fun under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In addition, they are more likely to “forget” their life jacket. 

Previous research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates the disproportionate representation of men in drowning incidents is nothing new, and that men have been struggling with the increased risk for decades. Although the CDC’s recent statistics show an increase in gender disparity, women have always handled water better. 

“Men had elevated risks for exposure, risk taking, and alcohol use,” the researchers wrote. “It was concluded that several factors contribute to their relatively high drowning rates, including a possible interaction between overestimation of abilities and heavy alcohol use.”

In their conclusion, the researchers broach a complex yet enduring factor behind male failure: hubris, or the overestimation of one’s abilities. Throughout the history of film, books, myth, and storytelling in general, death from hubristic vanity has been a signature male move. In this case, the problem is overestimated swimming abilities: although the average man takes fewer swimming lessons than the average woman, he is more likely to consider himself a talented swimmer. 

Source: Why are most drowning victims men? Sex differences in aquatic skills and behaviorsJ Howland, R Hingson, T W Mangione, N Bell, and S Bak. Am J Public Health. 1996 January; 86(1): 93–96.

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