Sorry men, it's women who will survive the apocalypse

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When life expectancy increased, women still outlived men by an average of between six months and four years.

In virtually every case, they found that women survived their ordeals far longer, often outliving their male counterparts by years, even when conditions were equally dire.

The researchers attribute female hardiness to "biological underpinnings" - basically, their female genetics.

The study findings appear in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists at Duke University set out to measure the impact of starvation, disease and other hardships on mortality rates among human populations over the last 250 years.

Researchers from Duke University and the University of Southern Denmark analysed data from seven populations who had an average life expectancy of less than 20 years. The data also included victims of starvation in Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the casualties of measles epidemics in 1846 and 1882 in Iceland.

The migration to Africa was a huge shock to the population, who encountered new diseases, and 43 per cent of people died within their first year on Liberian soil. Babies born during that time rarely made it past their second birthday.

In Europe, the life expectancy of a group of people living in Ireland was cut short by more than 15 years due to an extensive crop failure.

The researchers found that, in all the populations, women had lower mortality across nearly all ages, and with one exception, women lived longer on average than men.

It's common knowledge that the life expectancy of women in most parts of the world is significantly higher than that of the opposite gender.

The researchers found that the girls born during the starvation in Ukraine in 1933 had a mortality rate of 10.85, and boys 7.3.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Virginia Zarulli: "Most of the female advantage was due to differences in mortality among infants". Newborn girls are hardier than newborn boys.

Researchers suggest that differences in sex hormones may be enabling women to survive longer.

"Our results add another piece to the puzzle of gender differences in survival", the scientists wrote. For example, oestrogens, found in larger quantities in women, have anti-inflammatory effects, whereas testosterone, found in larger amounts in men, may actually suppress the immune system.