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Why are women living 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. Why do women live so longer than men in the present, and why has this advantage increased in the past? There is only limited evidence and the evidence isn't sufficient to support an informed conclusion. We recognize that biological, behavioral and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women are healthier than men; however, we aren't sure what the contribution of each of these factors is.

Independently of the exact weight, we know that at least a portion of the reason women live longer than men in the present however not as in the past, has to be due to the fact that some fundamental non-biological factors have changed. These factors are changing. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others 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, every country is above the diagonal parity line , which means that in every country baby girls can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

The chart above shows that while the female advantage exists everywhere, the country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women are 10 years older than men, while in Bhutan the difference is less than half an hour.

In countries with high incomes, the women's advantage in longevity was smaller
We will now examine how the female advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The following chart shows the men and women's life expectancies at the time of birth in the US between 1790 to 2014. Two things stand out.

There is an upward trend. Both men as well as women in the US live a lot, much longer today than a century 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 tiny but it has risen significantly in the past.

By selecting 'Change Country' on the chart, check that these two points also apply to the other countries having available data: Sweden, France and the UK.