Monday, December 5th, 2022

Why women 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’s the main reason women live longer than men? And why is this difference growing over time? We only have partial evidence and the evidence isn’t strong enough to make an informed conclusion. We know that behavioral, biological and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women are healthier than men; however, we aren’t sure how strong the relative contribution of each one of these factors is.

In spite of the amount, we can say that at least part of the reason women live longer than men in the present however not as previously, is to be due to the fact that a number of key 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 implies that a baby girl from every country could be expected to live for longer than her brothers.

The chart above shows that although the female advantage exists across all countries, the difference between countries is huge. In Russia, women live for 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan there is a difference of just half a year.



The advantage women had in life expectancy was less in countries with higher incomes than it is now.

Let’s now look at how the advantage of women in life expectancy has changed over time. The following chart shows the life expectancy of males and females at birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two areas stand out.

There is an upward trend. Men and women in the US have a much longer life span longer today than a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

And second, there is a widening gap: (read this blog post from The female advantage in life expectancy used be very small however it increased dramatically during the last century.

It is possible to verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries that have data by clicking on the “Change country” option in the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.

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