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Why do women live longer than men?

Joesph Laforest (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 partial evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to reach an absolute conclusion. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors contribute to the fact that women have longer life spans than men, 如果您的浏览器没有自动跳转,请点击此链接 but we don't know exactly how strong the relative contribution to each of these variables is.

In spite of the precise weight, we know that a large portion of the reason why women live longer than men in the present, but not in the past, has to have to do with the fact that several key non-biological factors have changed. These are the factors that are changing. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others 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. It is clear that all countries are over the diagonal line of parity. This means that a newborn girl in every country can expect to live longer than her brothers.

The chart below shows that even though women enjoy an advantage in all countries, the differences across countries are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years more than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of less than half a calendar year.

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In rich countries the women's advantage in longevity was smaller
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed over time. The following chart shows the men and women's life expectancies at birth in the US in the years 1790 until 2014. Two distinct points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both genders in America have longer lives than they were a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, the gap is getting wider: Although the female advantage in life expectancy used to be quite small, it has increased substantially in the past.

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