Why women are more likely to live longer 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, and why have these advantages gotten bigger over time? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence isn’t sufficient to draw an informed conclusion. We know there are biological, behavioral and environmental variables which play a significant role in women’s longevity more than males, it isn’t clear what percentage each factor plays in.

We are aware that women live longer than men, regardless of weight. But, this is not because of certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. What are these changing factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Other are more complicated. 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. It is clear that every country is over the line of parity diagonally. This means that a newborn girl in every country can be expected to live for longer than her younger brother.

Interestingly, this chart shows that, while the advantage for women exists in all countries, country-specific differences are huge. In Russia women have a longer life span than men; in Bhutan the difference is less than half a year.

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The advantage of women in life expectancy was less in developed countries than it is today.

Let’s see how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The chart below illustrates the men and women’s life expectancies when they were born in the US between 1790 to 2014. Two aspects stand out.

First, there is an upward trend. Men as well as women in the US are living much, much longer today than a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

The second is that there is an increasing gap: The female advantage in life expectancy used to be very small however, it has increased significantly over the course of the last century.

By selecting ‘Change Country by country’ in the chart, ???? ????? ????? check that these two points also apply to other countries that have available information: Sweden, France and the UK.

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