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 is the reason women are more likely to live longer than men? Why has this advantage gotten larger in the past? We have only a small amount of evidence and the evidence isn’t sufficient to reach an unambiguous conclusion. We know that biological, behavioral and environmental factors all play a role in the fact that women live longer than men; but we don’t know exactly how much the influence of each one of these factors is.
In spite of the precise amount, we can say that at least a portion of the reason why women live longer than men in the present however not as in the past, is to be due to the fact that some significant non-biological elements 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 Glorynote.com/%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%B3/ men and women. As you can see, all countries are above the diagonal line of parity – it means that in all nations baby girls can expect to live longer than a new boy.1
This chart is interesting in that it shows that while the female advantage exists everywhere, the difference between countries is huge. In Russia women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of less that half a year.
In rich countries the advantage of women in longevity was smaller
Let’s see how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The next chart plots male and female life expectancy at birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two distinct points stand out.
The first is that there is an upward trend. and women in the US live a lot, much longer than they did a century ago. This is in line with historical increases in life expectancy everywhere in the world.
Second, there’s an ever-widening gap: female advantage in life expectancy used to be very modest, but it grew substantially over the course of the last century.
When you click on the option “Change country in the chart, you will be able to confirm that the two points are also applicable to the other countries with available information: Sweden, France and the UK.