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Why do women live longer than men?

Sienna Wunderly (2022-04-20)

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 main reason women are more likely to live longer than men? And how has this advantage gotten larger over time? The evidence is sketchy and we're left with only some solutions. We recognize that biological, behavioral and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; but we don't know exactly how significant the impact of each one of these factors is.

In spite of the precise amount, we can say that at a minimum, the reason women live so much longer than men today but not in the past, is to relate to the fact that several significant non-biological elements 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.

sketch1622690924699.pngEverywhere 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 above the diagonal parity line ; this means in all countries baby girls can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart is interesting in that it shows that although the female advantage exists everywhere, the difference between countries is huge. In Russia, women live 10 years more than males. In Bhutan, the difference is less than half a calendar year.

In the richer countries, the female advantage in longevity used to be smaller
Let's take a look at how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The chart below shows gender-based and female-specific life expectancy at the time of birth in the US during the period 1790 until 2014. Two specific points stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Both men as well as women in the US have a much longer life span longer today than 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 terms of life expectancy used to be very modest but it increased substantially in the past century.

Using the option 'Change country' on the chart, you will be able to check that these two points are also applicable to the other countries with available information: ابر التخسيس Sweden, France and the UK.