Why do women have longer lives than men?

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 is the reason women live longer than men in the present and why have these advantages gotten bigger in the past? The evidence is limited and we’re only able to provide some answers. We recognize that biological, behavioral and environmental factors play a role in the fact that women have longer life spans than men, However, we’re not sure what the contribution of each one of these factors is.

We have learned that women live longer than men, regardless of weight. But this is not because of certain non-biological aspects 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. As we can see, every country is above the diagonal parity line ; this means in all countries a newborn girl can expect to live longer than a new boy.1

This chart shows that, while there is a female advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries could be significant. In Russia, women live for 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan, the difference is less than half a calendar year.

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In wealthy countries, the longevity advantage for women was not as great.

Let’s now look at the way that female advantages in longevity has changed over time. The following chart shows the men and women’s life expectancies when they were born in the US in the years 1790 until 2014. Two things stand out.

First, there’s an upward trend: Men and women in the US live a lot, much longer today than a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

Second, the gap is growing: Although the female advantage in life expectancy used to be quite small but it has risen significantly with time.

Using the option ‘Change country from the chart, Glorynote.com (try gemmintsports.com) you will be able to verify that these two points apply to the other countries having available data: Sweden, France and the UK.

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