Monday, September 27, 2010

Men last longer

Women live longer, yet paradoxically they can claim pension benefits earlier in many countries, where there is strong resistance to equalizing the retirement age (let alone increasing it, see last week's post). Would true believers in markets and efficient politics still find an explanation of this paradox?

Wolfgang Maennig and Michael Stobernack offer one: the physical performance of men declines much slower with age than for women. They base this on the worldwide top performers by age on rowing machines. The latter are of uniform quality, thus environmental factors do not matter and everyone competes on level ground. This is better than previous studies relying on track-and-field records, that more susceptible to whether influences (and doping). From the 40's to the 60's, the physical performance of men declines by about 15%. This is less than the productivity decrease that would be implied from wage changes (and labor productivity does not depend solely on physical performance, one could think older workers have in fact better non-physical qualities like experience). For women, this is more in the order of 20%. The difference is even more pronounced for those in the "lightweight" category.

The study does not go beyond the 70's (and I suppose the records pertain to the younger ones among those). So it must be that at some point the men start declining really fast. It also be that the age differences among the best rowers are simply not representative of the age differences among the general population. These elite athletes maintain their body, whereas the general population may not, and especially there may strong gender differences in doing so.

No comments: