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Why women are more likely to live longer than men?

Tawanna Cates (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. What makes women live longer than men in the present, and why does this benefit increase in the past? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not sufficient to reach an informed conclusion. Although we know that there are biological, psychological, and environmental factors which play a significant role in women living longer than men, we do not know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

In spite of how much amount, we can say that at least a portion of the reason women live longer than men in the present however not as in the past, has to have to do with the fact that a number of key non-biological factors have changed. These are the factors that are changing. 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. We can see that all countries are above the diagonal parity line - this means in all countries a newborn girl can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

It is interesting to note that the advantage of women exists in all countries, difference between countries is huge. In Russia women are 10 years older than men, while in Bhutan the difference is less than half an hour.

The advantage of women in life expectancy was smaller 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 chart below illustrates the gender-based and female-specific life expectancy at the birth in the US between 1790 to 2014. Two points stand out.

There is an upward trend: Men and women in the US have a much longer life span longer than they did 100 years 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 was once extremely small It has significantly increased with time.

You can verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries that have information by clicking on the "Change country" option in the chart. This includes the UK, العاب زوجية France, and Sweden.