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Why do women live longer than men?

Jim Biddlecombe (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 live longer than men? Why is this difference growing in the past? The evidence is limited and we only have some answers. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral, and environmental factors that play an integral role in the longevity of women over men, we don't know how much each one contributes.

We have learned that women live longer than males, regardless of weight. But, this is not due to the fact that certain non-biological aspects have changed. What are the factors that are changing? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Certain 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. We can see that all countries are above the line of parity diagonally. This means that a newborn girl in all countries can be expected to live for longer than her brother.

This chart shows that, even though women enjoy an advantage across all countries, differences between countries are often significant. In Russia women have a longer life span than men, while in Bhutan the difference is just half each year.

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In wealthy countries, the advantage of women in longevity was previously smaller.
Let's look at how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart plots male and female life expectancies at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two things stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Both men and women in the US have a much longer life span longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is increasing: While the female advantage in terms of life expectancy was tiny but it has risen significantly in the past.

Using the option 'Change country from the chart, verify that these two points are also applicable to other countries with available information: Sweden, اوضاع الجماع France and the UK.