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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 how have these advantages gotten bigger in the past? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion. While we are aware that there are behavioral, biological and environmental variables that all play a role in women living longer than men, we don't know how much each factor contributes.

image255B43255D.pngWe have learned that women are living longer than males, regardless of weight. But it is not because of certain non-biological aspects have changed. What are the factors that are changing? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Some are more complex. 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 line of parity - it means that in all nations a newborn girl can expect to live for longer than a new boy.1

The chart above shows that the advantage of women exists everywhere, the country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women have a longer life span than males; while in Bhutan the difference is less than half each year.

The advantage women had in life expectancy was less in rich countries as compared to the present.
Let's now look at how the advantage of women in longevity has changed over time. The next chart compares male and female life expectancies at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two aspects stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. as well as 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 advantage of women in life expectancy was extremely small however, it has grown significantly over time.

It is possible to verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries with information by clicking on the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.