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Why do women live longer than men?

Randall Patterson (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. What's the main reason women have a longer life span than men? What is the reason does this benefit increase over time? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to support an unambiguous conclusion. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women have longer life spans than men, however, we do not know how strong the relative contribution to each of these variables is.

It is known that women live longer than men, regardless of their weight. However, this is not due to the fact that certain biological factors have changed. What are these factors that have changed? 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. It is clear that all countries are above the line of parity diagonally. This implies that a baby girl from any country can expect to live longer than her brothers.

The chart below shows that while there is a female advantage across all countries, differences between countries could be significant. In Russia women live 10 years more than males. In Bhutan there is a difference of less that half a year.

In the richer countries, the female advantage in longevity was smaller
Let's now look at how the advantage of women in longevity has changed over time. The following chart shows the male and female life expectancy at the time of birth in the US during the period 1790 until 2014. Two points stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both genders in America have longer lives than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

69-slimming_belt_4-min-min.jpgThe gap is growing: Although the advantage of women in life expectancy used to be extremely small, it has increased substantially in the past.

If you can try select the option "Change country' on the chart, you can determine if these two points also apply to the other countries having available information: Sweden, France and the UK.