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Why women live longer than men?

Vilma Santora (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 live longer than men? And why does this benefit increase as time passes? The evidence is limited and we're left with only limited answers. Although we know that there are biological, behavioral and environmental variables which play a significant role in women's longevity more than men, we don't know how much each one contributes.

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

Interestingly, this chart shows that although the female advantage exists in all countries, country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan the gap is less than half a calendar year.

In rich countries the longevity advantage for women used to be smaller
Let's examine how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The following chart shows the male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US during the period 1790 to 2014. Two distinct features stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Men and women in the United States live 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 life expectancy used to be quite small, but it grew substantially over the last century.

By selecting 'Change Country in the chart, you can determine if these two points also apply to other countries that have available information: Sweden, علامات الحمل بولد France and the UK.