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Why women live longer than men?

Joesph Laforest (2022-04-18)

female_looking_for_something_in_her_pursEverywhere 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 reason why women live longer than men? What is the reason has this advantage gotten larger as time passes? We only have partial evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to reach an absolute conclusion. Although we know that there are biological, psychological, and environmental factors which all play a part in women living longer than men, we do not know how much each factor contributes.

In spite of how much weight, we know that at a minimum, the reason women live so much longer than men in the present but not in the past, has to be due to the fact that a number of significant non-biological elements have changed. What are these new factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others are more complex. 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 all countries are over the diagonal line of parity. This means that a newborn girl from any country can expect to live longer than her younger brother.

This chart illustrates that, even though women enjoy an advantage across all countries, differences between countries can be significant. In Russia women live 10 years more than men. In Bhutan the difference is less than half a calendar year.

In wealthy countries, the advantage of women in longevity used to be smaller
Let's look at how the gender advantage in longevity has changed with time. The following chart shows the male and female life expectancies at the time of birth in the US between 1790 until 2014. Two points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Both genders in the United States live longer than they used to 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is widening: While the advantage of women in life expectancy was once tiny but it has risen significantly with time.

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