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Why do women live longer than men?

Marisa Mireles (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? What is the reason is this difference growing over time? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not strong enough to make an absolute conclusion. While we are aware that there are behavioral, biological as well as environmental factors which all play a part in women living longer than men, we don't know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

We know that women live longer than men, regardless of their weight. However, this is not because of certain biological factors have changed. What are these changing factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are others that are more intricate. 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, all countries are above the diagonal line of parity - it means that in all nations baby girls can expect to live for longer than a new boy.1

This chart illustrates that, even though women enjoy an advantage everywhere, cross-country differences can be significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan there is a difference of only half a year.

In the richer countries, the longevity advantage for women used to be smaller
We will now examine how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The chart below illustrates the male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two things stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Women and men in America have longer lives than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

There is a widening gap: The female advantage in life expectancy used to be very modest, but it grew substantially over the last century.

You can verify that these points are also applicable to other countries that have information by clicking on the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.