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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. What is the reason women live longer than men in the present and how does this benefit increase over time? There isn't much evidence and we're left with only partial solutions. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral as well as environmental factors which all play a part in women's longevity more than males, we aren't sure what percentage each factor plays in.

We know that women live longer than men, regardless of their weight. But it is not because of certain biological factors have changed. What are the factors that are changing? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are others that are more intricate. 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 over the diagonal line of parity. This implies that a baby girl from any country can anticipate to live longer than her older brother.

This chart illustrates that, although there is a women's advantage in all countries, the differences across countries can be substantial. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan, the difference is just half a year.

The female advantage in life expectancy was smaller in the richer countries as compared to the present.
Let's take a look at how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The next chart shows the life expectancy of males and females when they were born in the US between 1790 and 2014. Two things stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both genders in America live longer than they were a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

And second, there is an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in life expectancy used to be extremely small but it increased substantially in the past century.

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