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Why do women live longer than men?

Hassie Blaze (2022-04-22)


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 more than men do today and how does this benefit increase in the past? There is only limited evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to reach an unambiguous conclusion. We know there are biological, psychological as well as environmental factors that play an integral role in women's longevity more than men, we don't know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that at a minimum, the reason why women live longer than men in the present but not in the past, has to relate to the fact that a number of important non-biological aspects have changed. What are these new factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are other issues 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 over the line of parity diagonally. This implies that a baby girl in all countries can expect to live longer than her brothers.

This chart is interesting in that it shows that, while the advantage for women exists across all countries, the cross-country differences are large. In Russia women have a longer life span than males; while in Bhutan the gap is less than half each year.

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In wealthy countries, the longevity advantage for women was smaller
Let's examine how the female longevity advantage has changed over time. The chart below illustrates the gender-based and female-specific life expectancy when they were born in the US from 1790 until 2014. Two distinct features stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Both genders in America 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: اوضاع الجماع female advantage in life expectancy used be very modest but it increased substantially during the last century.

Using the option 'Change country' on the chart, you can verify that these two points are applicable to other countries with available information: Sweden, France and the UK.