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 much longer than men today and how has this advantage increased over time? There isn’t much evidence and we have only limited answers. Although we know that there are biological, psychological, and environmental factors which play a significant role in the longevity of women over males, it isn’t clear how much each one contributes.
In spite of the amount of weight, we are aware that at least a portion of the reason women live so much longer than men do today, but not in the past, has to do with the fact that some important non-biological aspects have changed. What are these new factors? Some are well known and relatively straightforward, like the fact that men smoke more often. There are other issues that are more intricate. 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. As we can see, all countries are above the diagonal parity line , it means that in all nations the newborn girl is likely to live longer than a newborn boy.1
This chart illustrates that, even though women enjoy an advantage everywhere, cross-country differences could be significant. In Russia, women live 10 years longer than men. In Bhutan there is a difference of less than half a calendar year.
In rich countries the female advantage in longevity was smaller
Let’s take a look at how the female longevity advantage has changed in the course of time. The next chart compares the male and female lifespans at birth in the US from 1790 to 2014. Two specific points stand out.
There is an upward trend. Men and women in America have longer lives than they did 100 years 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 increased substantially in the past century.
Using the option ‘Change country from the chart, you will be able to confirm that the two points are also applicable to the other countries with available information: Sweden, try Glorynote (http://wiki.lynthornealder.com/index.php?title=User_talk:MargeneDerry0) France and the UK.