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Why do women live longer than men?

No, it's not the greater infant mortality, risk-taking, or drug use men seem to be predisposed to...it's the constant nagging that ...




Why do women live longer than men?

Women tend to live longer than men around the world – but the sex gap in life expectancy is not a constant.


By: Saloni Dattani and Lucas Rodés-Guirao, Our World in Data

November 27, 2023


Women tend to live longer than men. In 2021, this difference amounted to a 5-year gap in global life expectancy: the average life expectancy was 73.8 years for women versus 68.4 years for men.


What causes these differences? Is it because women outlive men at old ages? Or because young men are more likely to experience accidents and violent deaths?


In this article, we’ll look into the sex gap in life expectancy: how it arises, how it varies around the world and how it has shifted over generations.


The sex gap in life expectancy is not a constant

Women tend to outlive men around the world.


You can see the difference from the chart below. It compares female and male life expectancy across countries. Male life expectancy is shown on the horizontal axis and female life expectancy on the vertical axis.


All countries lie above the diagonal line, meaning female life expectancy is higher.

But the chart also shows that the gap varies between countries: some are much further from the line than others.



We can also see this in the map below. In some countries, like Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the gap is large – more than 10 years in 2021.




The sex gap in life expectancy varies around the

world


These charts show that the sex gap in life expectancy is not a constant. It varies between countries and has changed over time.


But why does this happen? And where does this gap come from?


A refresher on period life expectancy and what it means

Before we dive into the reasons for the sex gap in life expectancy, let’s consider how life expectancy is measured.


In this article, the data refers to the period life expectancy. This is a metric that summarizes death rates across all age groups in one particular year.


For a given year, it represents the average lifespan for a hypothetical group of people, if they experienced the same age-specific death rates throughout their whole lives as the age-specific death rates seen in that particular year.


This means it is directly influenced by factors that affect death rates, such as changes in living standards, public health and medicine, behaviors, and events like wars and pandemics.


The sex gap in life expectancy comes from sex differences in death rates across age groups – infants, youth, and older people.


Let’s look through them one at a time.

Infant death rates tend to be higher among boys than girls


The sex gap in life expectancy begins at birth, as newborn boys have a higher probability of death than newborn girls.


Boys are more likely to be born premature; and they also have higher death rates in the first week of life.3 This gap continues throughout infancy.


You can see this in the chart, where infant death rates in girls are shown on the horizontal axis, and death rates in boys are shown on the vertical axis.

In 2021, all countries are above the diagonal line, which shows that infant death rates were higher in boys.


The sex gap in infant death rates is due to a range of factors.


One key reason is that boys tend to be more vulnerable to infectious diseases, which may be due to a less developed immune system.6 Another is that boys are more susceptible to some genetic disorders due to having only one X chromosome.7

Death rates in infancy by sex




Youth death rates tend to be higher among men than women

After childhood, death rates rise due to accidents, violence, suicides, poisonings, and other ‘external causes of death’.


These causes of death tend to be more common among men than women – which widens the sex gap in life expectancy.


The chart shows the gap in overall death rates at age 25, as an example – the gap in death rates is also seen at other ages.


As before, most countries are found above the diagonal line, which means death rates are higher among men.




Older age death rates tend to be higher among men than women

The sex gap in life expectancy is also sustained at older ages.


As people grow older, death rates rise steeply from a range of causes, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, infections, cancers, and autoimmune diseases. Men tend to have higher prevalence rates and death rates from these conditions, which further contributes to the gap in life expectancy.


These differences are partly due to gender differences in health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol, and drug use, and occupational risks which tend to be more common in men and have growing consequences with age.1


As before, in 2021, all countries are above the diagonal line, which means death rates are higher in men than women.




The reasons for the sex gap in life expectancy have shifted over time

So far, we’ve seen that the death rate in males is higher among infants, young people, and older people.


But how much do these differences contribute to the overall gap in life expectancy? And how has this changed over time?


Conclusion

The sex gap in life expectancy begins at birth: newborn boys have higher death rates than newborn girls, as they’re more vulnerable to diseases and genetic disorders.

It continues in youth, when boys have a higher death rate than girls, typically due to violence and accidents.


It’s sustained at older ages when men have higher death rates than women from chronic health conditions, which are partly due to higher rates of smoking, alcohol, and drug use.

As there are many reasons for the sex gap in life expectancy, its size varies between countries and has shifted over time.


In the past, gender differences in infant mortality were the leading cause of the gap in life expectancy. But now, differences at older ages are a larger contributor to the gap in life expectancy.

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