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 reason women live longer than men? And why has this advantage gotten larger in the past? There isn’t much evidence and we only have partial solutions. Although we know that there are biological, behavioral, and environmental factors which play a significant role in women’s longevity more than males, we aren’t sure how much each factor contributes.

Independently of the exact number of pounds, we know that a large portion of the reason women live longer than men however not as previously, is to have to do with the fact that several important non-biological aspects 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 bchwiki.org/wiki/index.php/why_women_are_more_likely_to_live_longer_than_men women. We can see that every country is over the line of parity diagonally. This means that a newborn girl in all countries can expect to live longer than her younger brother.

This chart illustrates that, although women have an advantage in all countries, the differences across countries can be significant. In Russia women live 10 years longer than males; while in Bhutan the gap is just half an hour.



In countries with high incomes, the longevity advantage for women used to be smaller

We will now examine the way that female advantages in longevity has changed over time. The chart below shows male and female life expectancy when they were born in the US from 1790-2014. Two distinct points stand out.

There is an upward trend: Men as well as women in the US are living much, much longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.

There is an increase in the gap between men and women: female advantage in terms of life expectancy used be very small however, it has increased significantly during the last century.

If you select the option “Change country from the chart, you are able to check that these two points are applicable to other countries that have available data: Sweden, France and the UK.


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