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Why are women living longer than men?

Merlin Dunstan (2022-04-21)


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 longer than men and how is this difference growing over time? The evidence is limited and we're left with only incomplete answers. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors all contribute to the fact that women have longer life spans than men, but we don't know exactly how significant the impact of each of these factors is.

It is known that women live longer than men, regardless of weight. But this isn't due to the fact that certain non-biological aspects have changed. These variables are evolving. Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Some 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. As you can see, all countries are above the diagonal parity line ; this means in all countries baby girls can expect to live longer than a newborn boy.1

The chart below shows that although women have an advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries could be significant. In Russia women have an average of 10 years more than men. In Bhutan the gap is less than half each year.

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In countries with high incomes, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.
Let's take a look at how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The chart below shows male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two distinct points stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. Men and women in the United States live longer than they used to a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is increasing: While the advantage of women in life expectancy was once extremely small It has significantly increased with time.

You can check if these principles are also applicable to other countries that have data by selecting the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, تحاميل مهبلية France, and Sweden.