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Why do women live longer than men?

Jannie Heberling (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's the reason women have a longer life span than men? And why the advantage has grown as time passes? The evidence is sketchy and we have only partial answers. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral as well as environmental factors that all play a role in women living longer than men, we don't know how much each one contributes.

We know that women live longer than men, regardless of weight. However this isn't because of certain biological factors have changed. The factors changing are numerous. 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 all countries are above the line of parity diagonally. This means that a newborn girl from any country can anticipate to live longer than her brothers.

changemanagement-141101051710-conversionThis chart shows that, although women have an advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men; in Bhutan the difference is just half one year.

The advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was lower in developed countries that it is today.
We will now examine how the advantage of women in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart plots the life expectancy of males and females at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two points stand out.

First, there's an upward trend. Men and women in the US are living much, much longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is growing: Although the female advantage in life expectancy was very small, it has increased substantially in the past.

By selecting 'Change Country from the chart, confirm that the two points apply to other countries that have available data: Sweden, France and the UK.