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Why do women live longer than men?

Bernd Tom (2022-04-15)

hqdefault.jpgEverywhere 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 makes women live much longer than men today and how have these advantages gotten bigger over time? The evidence isn't conclusive and we're left with only incomplete solutions. While we are aware that there are biological, psychological and environmental factors that all play a role in women who live longer than males, it isn't clear what percentage each factor plays in.

We have learned that women are living longer than men, regardless of their weight. However this is not because of certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. What are the factors that are changing? 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. It is clear that all countries are over the line of parity diagonally. This implies that a baby girl from any country can expect to live longer than her brother.

The chart below shows that while there is a female advantage across all countries, differences between countries are often significant. In Russia women are 10 years older than men; in Bhutan the difference is just half an hour.

In wealthy countries, the women's advantage in longevity was not as great.
We will now examine how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The chart below illustrates the gender-based and female-specific life expectancy when they were born in the US between 1790 to 2014. Two distinct points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both men as well as women in the US are living much, much longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

And second, there is an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in terms of life expectancy used to be extremely small, but it grew substantially in the past century.

Using the option 'Change country by country' in the chart, you can check that these two points apply to the other countries having available data: Sweden, France and the UK.