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Why are women living longer than men?

Wilford Tufnell (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 makes women live much longer than men today and why does this benefit increase in the past? The evidence isn't conclusive and we're left with only incomplete answers. We know that behavioral, biological and environmental factors all contribute to the fact that women have longer life spans than men, however, we do not know how significant the impact to each of these variables is.

Independently of the exact weight, we know that a large portion of the reason why women live so much longer than men and not in the past, is to be due to the fact that certain important non-biological aspects have changed. What are these factors that have changed? 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 parity line , which means that in every country the newborn girl is likely to live for longer than a newborn boy.1

22015-140905231948-phpapp01-thumbnail-3.This chart illustrates that, although women have an advantage everywhere, cross-country differences are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men, while in Bhutan the gap is less than half a year.

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The advantage for women in life expectancy was smaller in developed countries than it is now.
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The chart below shows gender-based and female-specific life expectancy at birth in the US during the period 1790 until 2014. Two distinct features stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Men and women 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.

And second, there is an ever-widening gap: female advantage in terms of life expectancy used be very modest, صبغ الشعر بالاسود but it grew substantially over the course of the last century.

Using the option 'Change country in the chart, you are able to determine if these two points are applicable to other countries with available information: Sweden, France and the UK.