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Why women are more likely to live longer than men?

Ava Scutt (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 reason why women are more likely to live longer than men? And why the advantage has grown as time passes? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not sufficient to support an informed conclusion. Although we know that there are biological, behavioral and environmental factors which all play a part in women living longer than males, we aren't sure the extent to which each factor plays a role.

In spite of the precise amount, we can say that at least part of the reason women live so much longer than men today but not in the past, is to be due to the fact that some fundamental non-biological factors have changed. These variables are evolving. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others are more complex. 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 a newborn girl can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart illustrates that, although women have an advantage in all countries, the differences across countries can be significant. In Russia women live 10 years more than males. In Bhutan the difference is only half a year.

In wealthy countries, the longevity advantage for women used to be smaller
Let's see how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The next chart compares male and female life expectancies when they were born in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two areas stand out.

There is an upward trend. Women and men in America have longer lives than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, the gap is getting wider: Although the female advantage in life expectancy used to be extremely small, it has increased substantially over time.

You can check if these principles are also applicable to other countries with data by clicking the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, France, اضيق وضعية للجماع and Sweden.