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Why do women live longer than men?

Jewell Rettig (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. Why do women live so longer than men in the present and how has this advantage increased over time? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to support an informed conclusion. We know there are behavioral, biological as well as environmental factors which play a significant role in women living longer than males, it isn't clear how much each factor contributes.

We know that women are living longer than males, regardless of weight. However this is not because of certain biological or non-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 other issues 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. We can see that all countries are over the line of parity diagonally. This means that a newborn girl in all countries can expect to live longer than her younger brother.

It is interesting to note that while the female advantage is present everywhere, country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan the difference is less that half a year.

In wealthy countries, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.
We will now examine the way that female advantages in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart shows the male and female lifespans at birth in the US between 1790 and 2014. Two points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Women and;u=103522 men in the United States live longer than they used to a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, there's an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in life expectancy used be quite small but it increased substantially over the last century.

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