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Why are women living longer 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. Why do women live so longer than men in the present, and why have these advantages gotten bigger in the past? The evidence is limited and we're left with only incomplete solutions. Although we know that there are behavioral, biological as well as environmental factors which all play a part in women's longevity more than men, we do not know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

We have learned that women live longer than males, regardless of weight. However it is not due to the fact that certain biological factors have changed. What are these new factors? 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.

hands-sewing-fabric.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 diagonal line of parity - which means that in every country baby girls can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart is interesting in that it shows that although the female advantage exists in all countries, global differences are significant. In Russia, women live 10 years more than males. In Bhutan, the difference is less than half a calendar year.

The female advantage in life expectancy was smaller in the richer countries as compared to the present.
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed over time. The following chart shows the gender-based and female-specific life expectancy at the birth in the US during the period 1790-2014. Two areas stand out.

There is an upward trend: Men as well as 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 widening: While the female advantage in life expectancy was very small, it has increased substantially over time.

When you click on the option "Change country in the chart, determine if these two points also apply to the other countries with available information: Sweden, France and the UK.