Image Credit: Supplied

So, here we are at the conclusion of what seemed to be a perennial controversy: who is the stronger of the two sexes?

Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark very helpfully trawled through historic data looking at death rates for men and women who suffered famines and epidemics, or who were sold into slavery.

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.

Women are hard-wired to be stronger
Men vs women: Residents share views on who is stronger

For example, before the Irish Potato Famine, which devastated the country from 1845 to 1849, both men and women lived until they were 38, on average.

But at the height of the crisis, although life expectancy dropped to 18.17 for men, it only fell to 22.4 for women.

The same pattern was seen during the Swedish famine of 1772-73 and Ukraine harvest failures of 1933.

Women also lived longer during two 19th-century Icelandic measles outbreaks, with females lasting up to two years longer than men.

Women: Biological 'hardier'?

The researchers said the results suggest that women are fundamentally biologically “hardier” than men, which may be due to differences in sex hormones.

Oestrogen is a known anti-inflammatory, which also protects the vascular system, while testosterone is a risk factor for many fatal diseases. The male sex hormone may also harm the immune system.

Evolutionary scientists believe that women may have a boosted immune system because they need to survive for at least nine months to give birth, whereas a man’s input into reproduction is transitory.

And because men only have one ‘X’ chromosome, rather than two like women, there is no backup if one does not function correctly.

Men: more fragile?

Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, said: “I think the answer possibly lies in the fact that males are more fragile. Women are just more determined: men give up quicker when the going gets tough," he said.

"Women find it much harder to die in the final stages and often hang on in there well past the point at which males have given up and gone,” Dunbar added.

Max Headley, professor of physiology at University of Bristol, added: “It’s well-known that women tend to have more subcutaneous fat and a lower metabolic rate. So their stores of energy are likely to last longer in a famine.”