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Why are women living longer than men?

Bryant Dawbin (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 more than men do today and why is this difference growing in the past? There is only limited evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion. While we are aware that there are biological, psychological as well as environmental factors that all play a role in women living longer than men, we do not know what percentage each factor plays in.

In spite of the precise amount of weight, we are aware that a large portion of the reason women live so much longer than men today, but not in the past, is to be due to the fact that certain important non-biological aspects have changed. What are these factors that have changed? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are others that are more intricate. 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. We can see that every country is above the diagonal parity line ; this means in all countries that a baby girl can be expected to live for longer than a new boy.1

This chart illustrates that, although there is a women's advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries can be significant. In Russia women have a longer life span than males; while in Bhutan the gap is just half an hour.

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The female advantage in life expectancy was smaller in countries with higher incomes as compared to the present.
Let's look at the way that female advantages in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart plots male and female life expectancies at birth in the US during the time period between 1790 and 2014. Two distinct features stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both genders living in America are living longer than they were a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The second is that there is an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in life expectancy used be quite small however, it has increased significantly over the course of the last century.

It is possible to verify that these points are also applicable to other countries that have data by selecting the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, العاب زوجية France, and Sweden.