This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Fragility of Males

Demographers have known for a long time that death rates are higher for males than females from the very moment of conception, and that nature seems to compensate for this by having a higher conception rate for males than for females. An article published this week in Scientific American pushes the idea a little farther, suggesting that males are clearly the weaker sex in terms of their vulnerability to all of life's hazards.
Once they make it to childhood, boys face other challenges. They are more prone to a range of neurological disorders. Autism is notoriously higher among boys than girls: now nearly five times more likely, as tallied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are more susceptible than girls to damage from very low-level exposure to lead. Yet another problem: Boys also suffer from asthma at higher rates. There’s also a stronger link between air pollution and autism in boys.
What is up here? Why do boys face such a burden of physical challenges?
The answer is that the male’s problems start in the womb: from his more complicated fetal development, to his genetic makeup, to how his hormones work.
It’s the high levels of testosterone in the womb at critical times in gestation, according to British psychopathologist Simon Baron-Cohen, that are responsible for what he calls “the extreme male brain” – the kind exhibited by autistic boys – low in empathy, high in systematizing. And, in fact, recent decades of U.S. research do find unusually low estrogen and high testosterone levels among boys with autism.
If the balance of hormones is out of whack in males, what made that happen? Researchers are coming up with some clues.
The clues revolve around male hormone sensitivity to environmental toxins that we have unintentionally incorporated into our daily lives. The article builds on the author's book--Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill--which was published a few years ago, but a quick Google search reveals a large number of recent articles on the topic. It's still a theory, but one that is clearly in the testing stage.

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