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Why are women living longer than men?

Anthony Lovejoy (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 is the reason women live longer than men? Why does this benefit increase over time? We only have a few clues and the evidence isn't sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion. We are aware that behavioral, biological and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; However, we're not sure how strong the relative contribution of each factor is.

It is known that women live longer than males, regardless of weight. But this is not because of certain biological factors have changed. The factors changing are numerous. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Some are more complex. 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. As we can see, every country is above the diagonal parity line , it means that in all nations that a baby girl can be expected to live for longer than a new boy.1

This chart illustrates that, while there is a female advantage everywhere, cross-country differences can be substantial. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan the difference is less than half a calendar year.

In the richer countries, the female advantage in longevity was smaller
Let's now look at how the female advantage in longevity has changed with time. The chart below illustrates the male and female life expectancies at the birth in the US between 1790-2014. Two specific points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Men as well as women in the US have a much longer life span longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is growing: Although the advantage of women in life expectancy was once quite small however, it has grown significantly in the past.

By selecting 'Change Country by country' in the chart, you will be able to verify that these two points also apply to other countries with available data: Sweden, France and the UK.