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Why do women have longer lives than men?

Yvette Bock (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 much longer than men today and how have these advantages gotten bigger over time? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to draw an informed conclusion. We know there are biological, behavioral and environmental variables which play a significant role in women living longer than men, we don't know how much each one contributes.

In spite of how much amount, we can say that a large portion of the reason why women live longer than men do today however not as in the past, has to relate to the fact that a number of fundamental non-biological factors have changed. What are the factors that are changing? 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.

7 years agoEverywhere 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 that in all countries that a baby girl can be expected to live longer than a newborn boy.1

Interestingly, this chart shows that although the female advantage exists across all countries, the cross-country differences are large. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men, while in Bhutan the difference is less than half one year.

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In rich countries the advantage of women in longevity used to be smaller
Let's examine 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 in the years 1790 until 2014. Two points stand out.

First, there's an upward trend: Men as well as women in the US live a lot, much longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The gap is widening: While the female advantage in life expectancy was once extremely small however, it has grown significantly in the past.

Using the option 'Change country' on the chart, you will be able to confirm that the two points apply to other countries with available information: العاب زوجية Sweden, France and the UK.