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Fears About Aging: Men vs. Women

A thought came to my mind the other day. I’m being serious here. Do men worry about aging as often as women do? Or are women just more brainwashed with all the commercials about aging and face creams and Botox, cosmetic surgery, sags and bags and everything else under the sun?

Why are we the targeted group and not our partners? They are only targeted in one department – if you get my drift. Both men and women worry about aging and I think it is the market place that gives the misconception that women worry a lot more! The difference is that we worry about different possibilities. For instance:

Men’s Aging Fear #1: Impotency.

"There’s no question that men worry more than women about performing," says Ken Robbins, a University of Wisconsin professor of psychiatry who's also board certified in internal medicine. "When libido starts to diminish or things don't work as well as they did before, it's very common for men to worry that they'll embarrass or humiliate themselves." Perhaps performance anxiety isn't surprising given a 2008 British study that showed men think about sex 13 times a day compared to 5 times a day for women.

Women's Aging Fear #1: Losing Attractiveness/Becoming "Invisible"

Let's see… wrinkles. Saggy breasts. Gray hair. Permanent post-baby belly. Dry skin. Weight gain. Each change wrought by time and gravity renders most women a bit more invisible in a culture that prizes dewy youth. Enter the booms in plastic surgery, laser skin resurfacing, and "anti-aging" cosmetics. And it never ends.

Men's Aging Fear #2: Weakness

It's said that knowledge is power -- but for men, so is physical power itself. "Men value strength and vigour more -- and when it starts to slide, they take it much harder than women do," Robbins says. "Losing physical strength adds to their overall sense of loss: 'If I can't lift things, what kind of man am I?'"

Women's Aging Fear #2: Being Left Alone

A spouse's death figures high among women's fears, as does seeing their children dying first or losing old friends when they relocate for retirement, move to be closer to family, or become sick or die. "Social losses are very painful," says Eva Kahana, professor of sociology at Case Western Reserve University, who directs its 20-year Successful Aging Study. "The fear of being alone is harsher for women. Men seem to more easily find a younger model. You're more likely to see a 70-year-old man with a 30-year-old woman than to see the reverse."

Men's Aging Fear #3: Retirement/irrelevance

The prospect of retiring fires enormous anxiety because it, too, begs the question, “If I'm not my career, what am I?” “Men fear retirement because it’s how they define themselves and how they fill their time," says geriatrician Laurie Jacobs, director of the Jack and Pearl Resnick Gerontology Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “In the U.S., reaching retirement age tends to coincide with having your opinion solicited less and becoming more ‘invisible,’” she adds. Net result: a huge ego blow. “Women have an easier time giving up work,” psychiatrist Ken Robbins adds, “because they more quickly fill its gap with friends and children.”

Women's Aging Fear #3: Becoming a Bag Lady

"Men tend to be more financially secure, make more money, and have a bigger pension and Social Security cheques," says Ken Robbins. "Widows are often left with dramatically less money." Today's younger women may also carry mental images of their mothers' and grandmothers' financial illiteracy.

Men's Aging Fear #4: Losing wheels (and independence)

From his first souped-up junker to his badge-of-success sports car (or midlife-crisis convertible), what a man drives reflects his very identity. In American culture, cars also represent freedom, independence, and the endless possibilities of the open road. The prospect of having to give all that up -- which many men first think about when they see their own fathers turning in the keys for safety's sake -- is scary indeed.

Women's Aging Fear #4: Cancer

Maybe it's those ubiquitous pink ribbons. Cancer, particularly breast cancer, tops the health concerns women fear most, according to a 2005 study by the Society for Women's Health Research. Ironically, lung cancer is twice as deadly as breast cancer for women, but seventh on their list of fears. Respondents were also more fearful of ovarian cancer than colon cancer, although the latter kills more.

Men's Aging Fear #5: Losing his mind (or his wife losing hers)

Perhaps recent headlines are scaring more men into the fear of Alzheimer's: Men are more likely than women to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) -- sometimes called "pre-Alzheimer's" -- and get it earlier, according to a Mayo Clinic study in the September 2010 journal Neurology. Nearly one in five men ages 70 to 85 have the condition, which falls between normal forgetfulness and early dementia.

More women, on the other hand, actually develop Alzheimer's disease. But that, too, is a scary prospect for their mates—being thrust, with little preparation, into a caregiver role. "Many men haven't done too much caregiving," Robbins says. And nothing dashes the fantasy of a footloose-and-fancy-free retirement like tending full-time to a partner who doesn't even know you.

Women's Aging Fear #5: Being Dependent on Others

Both men and women alike dread "becoming a burden," according to the Successful Aging Study's Eva Kahana. But for many women, who have traditionally been the caregivers, the prospect of a role reversal is especially uncomfortable. "A woman may see her spouse as not being interested or skilled in taking care of her if the time comes, knowing he knows almost nothing about caregiving," Robbins says. "She doesn't want to interfere with the lives of her adult children either."

When I think about my own well-being, I think I would agree with these realizations found on the website But, when you think about it, every single day each of us is getting older—and thankfully so! Consider the alternative. So instead of thinking of life as a gradual decline, maybe it is time to start thinking of how life gets better as we go along—and that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Author: Kathryn Hartwell

“A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.” Robert Frost

“An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.” Agatha Christie

“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean-Paul Sartre

“Use all this life to make yourself a great writer, thoughtful and kind, slowly, surely over the years.” T.K. Naliaka

“It's one thing to be 55 years and 9 months old, but it's something completely different to be 4 years and 3 months away from SIXTY. "... I think I need a drink.” Brenda Priddy

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