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Journal of Aging Research
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 371039, 12 pages
Research Article

Are Men Aging as Oaks and Women as Reeds? A Behavioral Hypothesis to Explain the Gender Paradox of French Centenarians

1Equipe Démographie et Santé, INSERM, Centre Val d'Aurelle, Parc Euromédecine, U710, 34 298 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
2Fondation Nationale de Gérontologie, 49 rue Mirabeau, 75015 Paris, France
3Department of Human Welfare, Okinawa International University, 2-6-1 Ginowan City, Okinawa 901-2701, Japan
4INSERM, U988 Site CNRS, rue Guy Môquet, 94801 Villejuif Cedex, France

Received 27 February 2011; Revised 1 May 2011; Accepted 10 August 2011

Academic Editor: Leonard W. Poon

Copyright © 2011 Frédéric Balard et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Since the 1990s, several studies involving French centenarians have shown a gender paradox in old age. Even if women are more numerous in old age and live longer than men, men are in better physical and cognitive health, are higher functioning, and have superior vision. If better health should lead to a longer life, why are men not living longer than women? This paper proposes a hypothesis based on the differences in the generational habitus between men and women who were born at the beginning of the 20th century. The concept of generational habitus combines the generation theory of Mannheim with the habitus concept of Bourdieu based on the observation that there exists a way of being, thinking, and doing for each generation. We hypothesized that this habitus still influences many gender-linked behaviours in old age. Men, as “oaks,” seem able to delay the afflictions of old age until a breaking point, while women, as “reeds,” seem able to survive despite an accumulation of health deficits.