Why are women living longer than men? - Chiloé Austral
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Why are women living 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. Why do women live more than men do today and why have these advantages gotten bigger over time? We only have partial evidence and the evidence is not sufficient to draw an informed conclusion. Although we know that there are behavioral, biological and environmental factors that play an integral role in women who live longer than men, we do not know the extent to which each factor plays a role.

Independently of the exact amount, we can say that at a minimum, the reason women live longer than men today and not previously, is to do with the fact that a number of fundamental non-biological factors have changed. These variables are evolving. 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 (my company) 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 every country is above the diagonal parity line – this means in all countries the newborn girl is likely to live for longer than a newborn boy.1

Interestingly, this chart shows that although the female advantage 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 one year.



The female advantage in life expectancy was less in developed countries that it is today.

We will now examine how the gender advantage in terms of longevity has changed over time. The next chart plots the male and female lifespans at birth in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two distinct features stand out.

The first is that there is an upward trend. 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.

The gap is growing: Although the advantage of women in life expectancy was once very small, it has increased substantially in the past.

You can verify that these points are also applicable to other countries that have information by clicking on the «Change country» option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.

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