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Why are women living longer than men?

Steffen Dowdell (2022-04-19)


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 live longer than men? And how does this benefit increase as time passes? The evidence is sketchy and we only have limited solutions. While we are aware that there are biological, psychological and environmental factors which play a significant role in women's longevity more than men, we don't know how much each one contributes.

Independently of the exact weight, we know that at a minimum, the reason women live longer than men today, but not in the past, is to do with the fact that several key non-biological factors have changed. What 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. As you can see, all countries are above the diagonal parity line - it means that in all nations a newborn girl can expect to live for longer than a newborn boy.1

This graph shows that although there is a women's advantage everywhere, cross-country differences could be significant. In Russia, women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan the gap is less than half a calendar year.

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The advantage of women in terms of life expectancy was lower in countries with higher incomes as compared to the present.
Let's see how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The next chart shows the life expectancy of males and females at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two distinct points stand out.

There is an upward trend: Men and women in the US are living much, much longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, there's an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in terms of life expectancy used to be quite small however, it has increased significantly over the course of the last century.

It is possible to verify that the points you've listed are applicable to other countries that have data by clicking the "Change country" option on the chart. This includes the UK, علامات الحمل بولد France, and علامات الحمل بولد Sweden.