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Why do women live longer than men?

Merlin Dunstan (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 are more likely to live longer than men? Why does this benefit increase in the past? The evidence is sketchy and we only have limited solutions. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral, and environmental factors that all play a role in women living longer than males, it isn't clear what percentage each factor plays in.

We are aware that women live longer than men, regardless of weight. However it is not due to the fact that certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. These 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 above the diagonal parity line - this means that in all countries that a baby girl can be expected to live longer than a newborn boy.1

The chart below shows that even though women enjoy an advantage everywhere, cross-country differences could be significant. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of less than half a calendar year.

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In countries with high incomes, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.
Let's now look at how the female advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart shows the male and female lifespans when they were born in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two distinct features stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Men and women in the US live a lot, much longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

There is an increasing gap: The female advantage in life expectancy used to be quite small however, it has increased significantly in the past century.

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