What Makes Men and Women Different
Men aren’t from Mars. Women aren’t from Venus. They’re the same species from the same planet. But the sexes certainly aren’t the exact same. The differences between men and women are real and important.
They serve biological functions and can even help you better understand your health needs. These differences give each sex unique strengths that help with the most important task—survival.
But let’s talk similarities before jumping into what makes men and women different.
Here’s two you might not know: Genetically, men and women’s DNA is 98.5 percent identical. They even have the same hormones. But the ratios of those hormones explain some of the differences between men and women.
Now it’s time to dive into 25 fun facts. Discover the important physiological, biological, and nutritional differences between men and women.
Men typically have thicker skin—by about 25 percent. They also have higher densities of the protein collagen.
The differences in density goes beyond skin deep. Usually, men also have denser, stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments than women.
From about age 14 to 51, women typically need more iron than men. This is due to their loss of blood during menstruation, which typically happens in a cycle of 28 to 40 days.
On average, men typically have more muscle mass than women. And those skeletal muscles are faster and more powerful. But women’s muscles more readily resist fatigue and are faster to recover.
The second longest finger for most women is next to their thumb—the index finger. But men are the opposite. They usually have ring fingers—those next to their pinkie finger—that are longer than their index fingers.
Folate is an essential vitamin. So, men and women both need it. But it’s especially crucial for women of child-bearing age. If they become pregnant, women need enough folate to support the neural development of their babies.
There are differences in the way male and female brains are structured, how they process information, and interact with chemical signals. Some examples: men have more information-containing gray matter, but women have more white matter, which connects different parts of the brain. Also, women have bigger memory centers than men.
A woman’s circadian rhythm is more likely to be short of a 24-hour period. (They’re often six minutes short of a full day.) Men are more likely to be night owls. But women function better during periods of sleep deprivation.
During exercise, women’s primary fuel is fat. For men, it’s carbohydrates.
An average adult female has about 15–70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of testosterone. An average adult male has about 270–1070 ng/dL. Every year after age 30, men’s testosterone levels drop about one percent. That doesn’t happen for women. But women do see their estrogen levels fall off after menopause.
Men have pronounced Adam’s apples. That’s because they have larger voice boxes that make the surrounding cartilage stick out more.
Both sexes hit peak bone mass around age 30. At 40, men and women start losing bone. Menopause accelerates bone loss in women. So, women 51-70 need 200 milligrams (mg) of calcium more than men the same age. That’s 1200 mg per day for women and 1000 mg per day for men.
The daily calorie requirement for men is higher than women. There are a few reasons for this: higher muscle mass, stature, and basal metabolic rate. Pound for pound, muscles burn more than double the calories fat does.
Men and women carry different amounts of body fat. The higher body fat in women—about 10 percent—mostly supports reproductive physiology. One example is when a woman’s body fat gets too low, she stops menstruating.
Women typically carry their body fat in their hips and thighs. Fat tends to deposit around men’s stomachs.
The difference between men and women’s size, muscle mass, and calorie needs means men typically require diets higher in protein.
One study found that men have lower resting heart rates than women. But women have lower peak heart rates. Men’s heart rates typically rise faster during exercise and slow quicker afterward.
Men normally have more red blood cells (4.7–6.1 million cells per microliter compared to 4.2–5.4 million cells per microliter for women).
Women typically have lower blood pressure than men—regardless of race or ethnicity.
For most of life, men and women have the same vitamin D requirements. But older women need to up their intake of vitamin D. That’s because it promotes better calcium absorption.
Men are less likely to seek regular medical checkups. And when they go to the doctor, they’re more likely to hide or lie about their symptoms.
Zinc needs are generally similar for men and women. But pregnant and post-menopausal women require more zinc. Both sexes store zinc in bones, but men also store the essential mineral in their prostate.
Men are less sensitive to cold temperatures.
Women have better senses of smell and taste. They have 50 more cells (neurons) in their olfactory bulbs—the part of the brain responsible for processing smells. Women also usually have more taste buds than men.
The differences in the way men and women see the world is partly physical. On average, men are more likely to be colorblind, but their eyes also sense movement better. Women are able to distinguish small difference in color better.
That Was Fun, But Now What?
You know some of what makes men and women different. You can drop these fun facts in conversations whenever you want. And now you can also use those differences to personalize your health decisions. If you’re a woman, you know you need more folate and you burn fat during exercise. If you’re a man, you know you need more calories and your fat deposits around your stomach. Those are important considerations when planning your healthy lifestyle.
One thing you shouldn’t do is use the differences between men and women to make a case that one sex is somehow better than the other. All the differences listed above have very good biological or physiological reasons for existing. Through the history of human beings, the differences have helped men and women survive—mostly working together.
And these sex differences shouldn’t be seen as limitations in any way. They are averages and typical conditions. Not all men are more muscular. Not all women have a better sense of taste. Don’t let the differences between men and women get in the way of your health or life goals.