Since the mid 19th century into the 1970s women appear to be living longer than men due to health advances, but according to some research the gap is narrowing.
Dr. Esteban Ortiz-Ospina from the University of Oxford examined statistics collected through various sources such as the Global Human Mortality Database to investigate the gap in lifespan between the genders.
Within America from 1880-2015 life expectancy increased 67% for men from 47 years to 77, but for women life expectancy grew 71% from 48 years to 82 years. The biggest factors behind this widening gap appears to be women benefiting more from certain major health advances, according to Ortiz-Ospina.
The burden of infectious diseases began to decrease for both genders during the early 20th century, but the drop helped women disproportionately because women were more likely to die from infectious diseases, and more women died while giving birth.
“Over the following decades, medical advances reduced the burden of infectious diseases, and there was also a reduction in maternal mortality,” says Dr. Ortiz-Ospina. “This helped women proportionally more, and hence contributed to the widening of the longevity gap.”
Jump forward to the 1970s this gender jap in life expectancy started to shrink in America among those who survived past the age of 45; women outlived men by an average of 6 years in the 1970s, but only outlived men by 4 years in 2014, according to Ortiz-Ospina.
The gender gap shrinking may be due to American men now smoking less than they once were, but other factors are not well understood. Certain unhealthy behavios are more common among men such as smoking and suicide, as well there are external factors such as sex specific medical advancements that may benefit women more.
Genetics are also at play as there is evidence that differences in chromosomes and hormones between the genders affect longevity, such as women tending to have more fat sitting under their skin, while men tend to have more fat surrounding their organs. “That matters for longevity because fat surrounding the organs predicts cardiovascular disease, which is higher among men,” Dr. Ortiz-Ospina says.
Men also seem to not visit the doctor as much as women do which may also be tied to the mystery of why women live longer. To add to the mystery of the longevity gender gap women have lower mortality rates, but are not sick less often; women also go to see doctors more, but have more disability days and hospital stays than men do according to some research.
“It’s paradoxical that mortality rates are higher for men, while women get just as sick as men,” says Ortiz-Ospina. Maybe women are just biologically better at dealing with diseases, or maybe it is behavioral. “It really is a puzzle that requires more research,” adds Dr. Ortiz-Ospina.