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Why do women live longer than men?

Sonya Vigil (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 is the reason women live much longer than men today, and why is this difference growing in the past? There is only limited evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to support an unambiguous conclusion. We are aware that behavioral, biological and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women have longer life spans than men, however, we aren't sure what the contribution of each of these factors is.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that a large portion of the reason women live so much longer than men do today, but not previously, is to be due to the fact that certain key non-biological factors have changed. These factors are changing. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Some are more complex. 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. As you can see, all countries are above the diagonal parity line , this means in all countries that a baby girl can be expected to live for longer than a new boy.1

This chart shows that, even though women enjoy an advantage in all countries, the differences across countries can be substantial. In Russia women have a longer life span than men, while in Bhutan the gap is just half an hour.

In wealthy countries, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.
We will now examine how the female advantage in life expectancy has changed over time. The next chart shows the male and female lifespans at birth in the US between 1790 and 2014. Two distinct features stand out.

There is an upward trend. Men and women in the United States live longer than they used to 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, the gap is increasing: While the female advantage in terms of life expectancy was tiny however, it has grown significantly in the past.

You can confirm that the points you've listed are applicable to other countries with data by clicking on the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.