Physical Differences

To anyone who has observed a number of newborn babies, it is obvious that, in addition to being equipped with different sex organs than baby girls, baby boys are, on the average, longer and heavier. It may or may not be obvious to a patient observer, but it is a good bet that a randomly selected newborn will be a boy. The ratio of males to females in the United States is approximately 105 to 100. Due to the higher incidence of fatal diseases and traumas for boys than for girls, this ratio is close to 1:1 by the time they become adults. There are, of course, other biological differences between the sexes, but they are not so obvious at birth. For example, the average boy is stronger, has faster and more coordinated gross body movements, but poorer tactile sensitivity and finger dexterity than girls. He is more likely than the average girl to be color deficient and left-handed, and he has a greater likelihood of being able to wiggle his ears (Myers, 1995). In boys, there is also a fair chance that the right hemisphere of the brain is dominant, whereas in girls, it is rarely so.

On the average, girls reach puberty 2 years earlier than boys, and in junior high school some boys may feel like shrimps alongside their female classmates. By the time both sexes have completed adolescence, females have substantially more body fat (70% more) than males but are shorter (5 inches), less muscular (40% less), and have less facial hair (Myers, 1995). These differences persist and others develop in young adulthood. For example, pattern baldness often starts showing in adult males in their late teens or early twenties. And with respect to the biology of sexual behavior, young women are more likely to become sexually aroused soon after experiencing orgasm.

As they age into middle- and older adulthood, women are more likely than men to develop chronic illnesses and physical problems. Consequently, many older women require help with ADLs (activities of daily living) and especially instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) (Barer, 1994). Compared with men, they pay more visits to physicians and therapists and take more drugs for physical and psychiatric disorders (Unger, 1979). On the other hand, adult males are more susceptible than adult females to life-threatening illness and have a higher death rate for the 10 most frequent causes of death in the United States (Singh, Kochanek, &MacDorman, 1996).

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