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Why do women have longer lives than men?

Crystle Oram (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 women are more likely to live longer than men? And how is this difference growing in the past? There is only limited evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to support a definitive conclusion. We know there are behavioral, biological as well as environmental factors that all play a role in women living longer than men, we don't know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that at least a portion of the reason women live so much longer than men but not in the past, has to have to do with the fact that certain significant non-biological elements 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. We can see that all countries are above the diagonal line of parity - which means that in every country that a baby girl can be expected to live longer than a new boy.1

It is interesting to note that although the female advantage exists in all countries, difference between countries is huge. In Russia women live 10 years more than males. In Bhutan the difference is less than half a calendar year.

The advantage for women in terms of life expectancy was lower in the richer countries that it is today.
Let's now look at how the advantage of women in longevity has changed with time. The next chart plots male and female life expectancies when they were born in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Both genders in America have longer lives than they used to a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is getting wider: Although the female advantage in terms of life expectancy was very small but it has risen significantly over time.

When you click on the option "Change country' on the chart, you are able to determine if these two points are also applicable to other countries with available data: Sweden, France and the UK.firefox_icon_on_a_computer_screen-1024x6