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Why do women have longer lives than men?

Marisa Mireles (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 and why is this difference growing in the past? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to support an unambiguous conclusion. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral, and environmental factors which play a significant role in women who live longer than men, we do not know what percentage each factor plays in.

We are aware that women are living longer than men, regardless of their weight. However this is not due to the fact that certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. What are these changing factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Certain 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. As we can see, all countries are above the diagonal parity line - this means that in all countries baby girls can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

It is interesting to note that the advantage of women is present everywhere, difference between countries is huge. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan the gap is less than half a calendar year.

In the richer countries, the women's advantage in longevity used to be smaller
Let's examine how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The chart below shows men and women's life expectancies at birth in the US between 1790 until 2014. Two things stand out.

First, there's an upward trend. Both men and women in the US are living much, much longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, the gap is growing: Although the female advantage in life expectancy was once quite small however, it has grown significantly in the past.

You can check if the points you've listed are applicable to other countries that have data by clicking on the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.