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 more than men do today, and why is this difference growing over time? We only have a few clues and the evidence is not sufficient to support a definitive conclusion. While we are aware that there are biological, behavioral and environmental variables that play an integral role in women who live longer than males, it isn’t clear how much each factor contributes.
We know that women are living longer than men, regardless of weight. But this is not due to the fact that certain 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, Vanburg.com/Mw19/index.php/Why_Do_Women_Live_Longer_Than_Men 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. As you can see, all countries are above the diagonal line of parity – it means that in all nations the newborn girl is likely to live for longer than a new boy.1
The chart below shows that although there is a women’s advantage throughout the world, the differences between countries can be substantial. In Russia women live for 10 years longer than males. In Bhutan the gap is just half a year.
The female advantage in life expectancy was much lower in countries with higher incomes as compared to the present.
Let’s look at how female longevity advantage has changed over time. The next chart shows male and female life expectancies when they were born in the US over the period 1790-2014. Two specific points stand out.
First, there is an upward trend. Women and men living in America are living longer than they did 100 years ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.
There is an ever-widening gap: female advantage in terms of life expectancy used to be very small however it increased dramatically over the last century.
Using the option ‘Change country from the chart, you can confirm that the two points are applicable to the other countries with available data: Sweden, France and the UK.