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Why do women have longer lives than men?

Marilou Slapoffski (2022-04-18)

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 more than men do today and why does this benefit increase in the past? We only have a few clues and the evidence isn't sufficient to support an absolute conclusion. We know there are behavioral, biological as well as environmental factors which all play a part in the longevity of women over males, we aren't sure the extent to which each factor plays a role.

In spite of how much weight, we know that a large portion of the reason why women live so much longer than men, but not in the past, has to do with the fact that some fundamental non-biological factors have changed. What are these new factors? 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.

high-fashion-in-fur.jpg?width=746&formatEverywhere 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 implies that a baby girl in every country can expect to live longer than her brothers.

The chart above shows that the advantage of women exists everywhere, the global differences are significant. In Russia women have a longer life span than men, while in Bhutan the gap is just half each year.

In wealthy countries, the advantage of women in longevity was not as great.
Let's look at how the advantage of women in longevity has changed with time. The chart below shows men and women's life expectancies at the time of birth in the US between 1790 until 2014. Two aspects stand out.

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

Second, the gap is increasing: While the advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was quite small but it has risen significantly over time.

You can check if these principles are also applicable to other countries with data by clicking the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.