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Why are women living longer than men?

Marilou Slapoffski (2022-04-16)

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 are more likely to live longer than men? And why is this difference growing as time passes? We only have a few clues and the evidence isn't sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion. Although we know that there are behavioral, biological, and environmental factors that all play a role in women who live longer than men, we don't know how much each factor contributes.

1200px-Antu_download.svg.pngWe have learned that women live longer than men, regardless of their weight. But this is not due to the fact that certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. These variables are evolving. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are others 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 every country is over the line of parity diagonally. This implies that a baby girl in every country can anticipate to live longer than her brothers.

The chart below shows that while there is a female advantage in all countries, the differences across countries are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men; in Bhutan the gap is just half each year.

The advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was lower in countries with higher incomes than it is now.
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The following chart shows male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US during the time period between 1790 and 2014. Two things stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Women and men in America live longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

There is an ever-widening gap: female advantage in life expectancy used be very modest however it increased dramatically over the last century.

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