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 so longer than men and how has this advantage increased in the past? The evidence isn’t conclusive and we only have limited answers. We recognize that biological, behavioral and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; However, we’re not sure what the contribution of each of these factors is.

We know that women are living longer than men, regardless of weight. However it is not because of certain biological or non-biological factors have changed. These variables are evolving. 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. We can see that every country is over the diagonal line of parity. This implies that a baby girl from every country could be expected to live for longer than her younger brother.

This chart illustrates that, while there is a female advantage in all countries, the differences across countries could be significant. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan, the difference is only half a year.



In wealthy countries, 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 next chart compares male and female life expectancies at birth in the US during the time period between 1790 and 2014. Two areas stand out.

First, there’s 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 ever-widening gap: female advantage in life expectancy used to be very modest however it increased dramatically during the last century.

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


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