The will to live: gender differences among elderly persons

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Mar;52(6):949-58. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00198-2.


The purpose of the study was to investigate the will to live by evaluating its association with the wish to prolong life and with indicators of well-being among men and women. First were assessed the strength of the will to live, and its relationship to the wish to prolong life in hypothetical illness conditions. Next, association between the will to live and explanatory factors, such as religious beliefs, fear of death and dying, physical and psycho-social dimensions of well-being were comparatively evaluated among men and women. Data were collected from a random sample of 987 Israeli elderly persons by structured interviews at the participants' homes. Findings indicated that women express a significantly weaker will to live than men, and less desire to prolong life by medical interventions in all the hypothetical health conditions presented to them. Gender differences were also found on the variables which contribute to the explanation of the will to live: For both genders, psycho-social indicators of well-being had more explanatory power than health indicators of well-being, but this finding was more striking among women. The implications of these findings for the study of the perceived meaningfulness of life, and the potential use of the will to live as an indicator of well-being are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Israel
  • Jews / psychology
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Religion and Psychology
  • Sex Factors