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Why women are more likely to live longer than men?

Kimberly Castleberry (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 is the reason women live more than men do today and how is this difference growing over time? There isn't much evidence and we only have partial solutions. Although we know that there are behavioral, biological and environmental variables which all play a part in women who live longer than men, we do not know how much each one contributes.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that a large portion of the reason women live longer than men today, but not in the past, has to have to do with the fact that several fundamental non-biological factors have changed. What are the factors that are changing? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Other 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.

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The first chart below shows life expectancy at birth for men and women. As we can see, every country is above the diagonal parity line , this means that in all countries baby girls can expect to live for longer than a new boy.1

It is interesting to note that although the female advantage exists across all countries, the global differences are significant. In Russia women live 10 years more than men. In Bhutan the gap is less than half a calendar year.

The advantage women had in life expectancy was much lower in the richer countries as compared to the present.
Let's see how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The following chart shows the male and female lifespans at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two distinct points stand out.

First, there's an upward trend. as well as women in the US are living much, much longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

And second, there is an ever-widening gap: female advantage in life expectancy used to be very modest however it increased dramatically over the course of the last century.

You can check if these points are also applicable to other countries that have information by clicking on the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, France, and اضيق وضعية للجماع Sweden.