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Why do women live longer than men?

Hong McQuay (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's the reason why women live longer than men? And how is this difference growing in the past? The evidence isn't conclusive and we're only able to provide some answers. We are aware that behavioral, biological and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; but we don't know exactly how much the influence of each of these factors is.

In spite of the weight, we know that a large portion of the reason women live longer than men do today and not previously, has to relate to the fact that a number of 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. Others 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. It is clear that all countries are above the diagonal line of parity. This means that a newborn girl in every country can expect to live longer than her brother.

Interestingly, this chart shows that although the female advantage is present everywhere, cross-country differences are large. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan, the difference is just half a year.

In countries with high incomes, the female advantage in longevity was previously smaller.
Let's examine how the advantage of women in life expectancy has changed over time. The following chart shows the male and female life expectancies at the time of birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two specific points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Both genders 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.

The gap is growing: Although the advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was very small, it has increased substantially over time.

Using the option 'Change country in the chart, check that these two points also apply to the other countries having available data: Sweden, France and the UK.7 years ago