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Why do women live longer than men?

Marilou Slapoffski (2022-04-15)

Everywhere in the world women live longer than men - but this was not always the case. The available data from rich countries shows that women didn't live longer than men in the 19th century. What makes women live much longer than men today and how does this benefit increase in the past? There isn't much evidence and we have only some solutions. We are aware that behavioral, biological and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; however, we do not know what the contribution of each factor is.

In spite of the precise amount of weight, we are aware that at a minimum, the reason why women live longer than men today, but not in the past, is to relate to the fact that some important non-biological aspects have changed. These variables are evolving. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Certain are more complicated. For example, there is evidence that in rich countries the female advantage increased in part because infectious diseases used to affect women disproportionately a century ago, so advances in medicine that reduced the long-term health burden from infectious diseases, especially for survivors, ended up raising women's longevity disproportionately.

Everywhere in the world women tend to live longer than men
The first chart below shows life expectancy at birth for men and women. We can see that all countries are above the diagonal parity line - this means that in all countries baby girls can expect to live for longer than a new boy.1

This chart shows that, although there is a women's advantage in all countries, the differences across countries can be significant. In Russia women are 10 years older than men. In Bhutan the gap is just half a year.

In rich countries the advantage of women in longevity used to be smaller
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The chart below shows male and female life expectancy at the time of birth in the US during the period 1790 to 2014. Two things stand out.

There is an upward trend. Men and women living in America are living longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is widening: While the advantage of women in life expectancy used to be extremely small It has significantly increased over time.

It is possible to verify that these points are also applicable to other countries that have data by selecting the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.