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Why women are more likely to live longer 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. What makes women live more than men do today and how have these advantages gotten bigger over time? There is only limited evidence and the evidence isn't sufficient to reach an informed conclusion. We know that behavioral, biological and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; however, we aren't sure how significant the impact of each of these factors is.

In spite of the precise amount, we can say that at least part of the reason why women live longer than men but not in the past, has to do with the fact that some key 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 you can see, all countries are above the diagonal line of parity - which means that in every country that a baby girl can be expected to live for longer than a new boy.1

The chart below shows that even though women enjoy an advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries are often significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than males; while in Bhutan the gap is less than half an hour.

In wealthy countries, the women's advantage in longevity was not as great.
Let's look at how female longevity advantage has changed over time. The chart below illustrates the male and female life expectancies at the time of birth in the US in the years 1790 to 2014. Two distinct points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Women and men 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.

Second, the gap is getting wider: Although the advantage of women in life expectancy used to be tiny It has significantly increased with time.

drummer_2-1024x683.jpgIf you select the option "Change country in the chart, you can determine if these two points are also applicable to the other countries with available data: Sweden, France and the UK.