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? What is the reason the advantage has grown over time? There is only limited evidence and the evidence isn’t sufficient to support a definitive conclusion. While we are aware that there are behavioral, biological and environmental variables which play a significant role in the longevity of women over males, it isn’t clear how much each factor contributes.
Independently of the exact number of pounds, we know that at least part of the reason why women live longer than men in the present and not previously, is to have to do with the fact that certain key non-biological factors have changed. What are these factors that have changed? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. Others 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 means that a newborn girl in all countries can be expected to live for longer than her older brother.
Interestingly, this chart shows that while the female advantage exists everywhere, the global differences are significant. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of only half a year.
In wealthy countries, the advantage of women in longevity was previously smaller.
Let’s take a look at how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The following chart shows the gender-based and female-specific life expectancy at the time of birth in the US during the period 1790 to 2014. Two specific points stand out.
The first is that there is an upward trend. Both men as well as women in the US are living much, much longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.
You can verify that these principles are also applicable to other countries with data by selecting the “Change country” option on the chart. This includes the UK, France, and Sweden.