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Why women are more likely to live longer than men?

Joesph Laforest (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 reason women are more likely to live longer than men? Why the advantage has grown as time passes? We only have partial evidence and the evidence is not strong enough to make an absolute conclusion. We recognize that biological, behavioral and environmental factors all contribute to the fact that women have longer lives than men, However, we're not sure what the contribution to each of these variables is.

We know that women are living longer than men, regardless of weight. However this isn't because of 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. 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 parity line ; this means that in all countries the newborn girl is likely to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart shows that, although women have an advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries can be significant. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan there is a difference of less that half a year.

In countries with high incomes, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.
We will now examine how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart shows male and female life expectancies at birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two areas stand out.

First, there's an upward trend. Men and women in the US have a much longer life span longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

There is an ever-widening gap: female advantage in life expectancy used to be very small however, it has increased significantly during the last century.

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