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Why women live longer than men?

Carmela Beveridge (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 has this advantage increased in the past? The evidence is limited and we're only able to provide limited solutions. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women have longer life spans than men, however, we aren't sure how significant the impact of each of these factors is.

In spite of the weight, we know that at least part of the reason women live longer than men in the present and not previously, has to be due to the fact that some important non-biological aspects have changed. These factors 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.

random-160808070239-thumbnail-3.jpgEverywhere 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 line of parity diagonally. This implies that a baby girl in all countries can expect to live longer than her brothers.

This chart shows that, while there is a female advantage across all countries, differences between countries can be significant. In Russia women have an average of 10 years more than men; in Bhutan the difference is less than half an hour.

In countries with high incomes, the female advantage in longevity was not as great.
Let's examine how the advantage of women in longevity has changed with time. The following chart shows the men and women's life expectancies at the time of birth in the US between 1790-2014. Two specific points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Men and women living in America are living 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 increasing gap: The female advantage in terms of life expectancy used be extremely small however it increased dramatically during the last century.

You can check if these principles 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 Sweden.