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Why are women living longer than men?

Annie Cardone (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 longer than men and why is this difference growing in the past? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not strong enough to make an unambiguous conclusion. We are aware that behavioral, biological and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; however, we do not know how significant the impact of each of these factors is.

We have learned that women are living longer than males, regardless of weight. However, this is not due to the fact that certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. These factors are changing. 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. We can see that all countries are above the diagonal parity line ; this means that in all countries that a baby girl can be expected to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart illustrates that, while there is a female advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men; in Bhutan the gap is less than half an hour.

The advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was lower in countries with higher incomes than it is now.
Let's now look at how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The chart below illustrates the male and female life expectancies at the time of birth in the US during the period 1790-2014. Two distinct points stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Men and women in America have longer lives than they were a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, there's an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in life expectancy used to be very small, but it grew substantially in the past century.

preschool_table-1024x683.jpgIf you select the option "Change country by country' in the chart, you are able to verify that these two points also apply to the other countries with available data: Sweden, France and the UK.