A new study sheds some light on why men tend to support the development of indefinite life extension technologies more than women. The findings, published in the Journal of Individual Differences, indicate that religiosity and attitudes toward science explain some of the difference between men’s and women’s views.
“Much of my research concerns the different strategies people use to deal with their awareness of their own mortality,” said study author Uri Lifshin, a postdoctoral researcher at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“In one project we tested if attitudes towards radical life extension through medical technologies may serve a death-anxiety buffering function, and whether increased support for life extension would be associated with lower levels of beliefs in an afterlife. In further investigations we found that men generally support life extension through medical technology more than women, and so we wanted to see if religiosity, afterlife beliefs and attitudes towards science could help explain this gender difference.”
Lifshin and his colleagues surveyed 5,000 University of Arizona students regarding their religiosity, beliefs about an afterlife, attitudes towards life extension, and other factors. In line with their previous work, the researchers found that men tended to be more supportive of life extension and anti-aging technologies than women
“There seems to be a reliable gender differences in support for life extension technologies, as men support these technologies more than women. Nevertheless, we still don’t know exactly why this is,” Lifshin explained.
“Women do reliably score higher than men in religiosity and in afterlife beliefs, and they seem to prefer literal immortality over life extension. However, it turns out that religiosity only explains a small portion of the gender difference in support for life extension.”
“Gender differences in attitudes towards science and technology seem to explain a larger portion of the effect (women have more negative attitudes towards science than men on average and negative attitudes towards science are associated with less support for life extension technologies),” Lifshin told PsyPost.
“But for the most part, the real source of this gender difference remains unexplained. This is of course natural since we are dealing with a relatively new and developing topic.”
The study — like all research — includes some limitations. The participants in the study were, on average, only about 19 years old.
“Older adults or individuals from other cultures might have different responses to life extension technologies. But considering that previous research conducted in Australia and the U.K. (e.g., Arber, Vandrevala, Daly, & Hampson, 2008; Partridge, Lucke, Bartlett, & Hall, 2011) also found these gender differences among older populations, this limitation may not be a consequential one. Still, more cross-cultural research with representative samples is needed,” Lifshin said.
Another thing that remains unclear is whether these gender differences will persist once life extension technologies are developed and obtainable.
“Considering that currently these technologies are still not available, it may be that when people actually have the possibility to choose whether or not to extend their lives indefinitely using medical technology they would respond differently. So our ability to measure people’s’ actual attitudes towards these technologies remains quite limited,” Lifshin told PsyPost.
“I think that future research may also address the question of how the possibility of life extension may affect people’s social attitudes and behavior. If people could stop the aging process, and death would become partially controllable and preventable, would they then start worrying more about other factors in the environment that might kill them?”
“In other research (Helm, Lifshin, Greenberg, & Psyczcynski, 2019) we found that after reading an article claiming that indefinite life extension technologies were possible in their lifetime, college students became harsher in their judgment of social transgressors (e.g., criminals). On the other hand, there could also be positive effects of thinking that life extension may be possible – perhaps it may increase people’s motivation to make the world a better place to live in, by promoting world peace or by taking better care of the environment?” Lifshin added.
The study, “Women Want the Heavens, Men Want the Earth: Gender Differences in Support for Life Extension Technologies“, was authored by Uri Lifshin, Peter J. Helm, Jeff Greenberg, Melissa Soenke, and Tom Pyszczynski.