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Why do women have longer lives 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 so more than men do today and why have these advantages gotten bigger over time? We only have partial evidence and the evidence is not strong enough to make an absolute conclusion. We know that behavioral, biological and environmental factors contribute to the fact that women live longer than men; However, we're not sure how much the influence to each of these variables is.

It is known that women live longer than men, regardless of their weight. However it is not due to the fact that certain non-biological factors have changed. The factors changing are numerous. 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 all countries are above the diagonal parity line ; it means that in all nations baby girls can expect to live longer than a newborn boy.1

This chart is interesting in that it shows that the advantage of women exists across all countries, the country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of just half a year.

In countries with high incomes, the women's advantage in longevity used to be smaller
Let's see how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The next chart plots male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US between 1790 and 2014. Two areas stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Men and women in America live longer than they were 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 used to be very small however, it has grown significantly over time.

You can verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries that have data by selecting the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.