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Why are women living longer than men?

Felisha Mitchel (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's the main reason women are more likely to live longer than men? What is the reason the advantage has grown in the past? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not strong enough to make an informed conclusion. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors contribute to the fact that women are healthier than men; however, we do not know how significant the impact of each one of these factors is.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that at a minimum, the reason why women live so much longer than men and not in the past, has to be due to the fact that a number of important non-biological aspects have changed. These variables are evolving. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others 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. It is clear that every country is above the diagonal line of parity. This implies that a baby girl from any country can expect to live longer than her older brother.

This chart shows that, although there is a women's advantage everywhere, cross-country differences could be significant. In Russia women are 10 years older than males; while in Bhutan the difference is less than half one year.

The advantage women had in life expectancy was smaller in rich countries than it is today.
Let's look at how the gender advantage in life expectancy has changed over time. The chart below shows male and female life expectancies at the birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both genders in America live longer than they were 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 very small however, it has grown significantly over time.

You can verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries that have information by clicking on the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, ابر التخسيس France, and Sweden.