Why do females tend to live longer than males?

There is a well-established difference in life expectancy between males and females, with women tending to live longer than men. This gender gap in longevity has been observed across cultures and time periods, leading researchers to investigate the potential biological, behavioral, and social factors that may contribute to this disparity.

Some quick answers to key questions on this topic include:

– On average, women live 5-6 years longer than men globally. In the US, the gap is around 5 years, with women living to an average of 81 years vs 76 years for men.

– Biological factors like hormones and genetics are thought to account for some of the longevity gap. Estrogen may provide protective effects for women against heart disease and cancer.

– Behavioral factors also come into play. Men tend to engage in more risky behaviors like smoking, drinking excessively, and dangerous jobs or activities. These can negatively impact men’s health and longevity.

– Social factors like gender norms, roles, and stressors have also been linked to the disparity. For example, men tend to have weaker social connections and support networks.

Read on for a more in-depth look at the research behind why women outlive men and key factors that contribute to the gender gap in longevity.

Average Life Expectancy For Males vs Females

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global average life expectancy at birth in 2019 was 72.6 years for males and 77.9 years for females, a gap of 5.3 years. This gender gap has persisted over time, though it has narrowed in recent decades.

Here’s a look at average life expectancy for males vs females in different regions:

– Global: Males 72.6 years, Females 77.9 years
– United States: Males 76.3 years, Females 81.5 years
– Europe: Males 77.5 years, Females 83.3 years
– Africa: Males 61.5 years, Females 65.4 years
– Asia: Males 70.9 years, Females 75.7 years

The gap is widest in developed nations like Europe and North America. It tends to be lower in less developed regions where factors like childbirth pose greater threats to women’s health and longevity. But globally, women live longer than men on average.

Historical Trends in Gender Longevity Gap

The gap in life expectancy has not always been constant over time. Historically, the difference was much smaller prior to the 20th century. However, as living standards, hygiene, and medical care improved, the gender gap widened.

In the early 1800s in Europe, the difference was less than one year. By the turn of the 20th century, it had widened to 3-4 years as infectious diseases were brought under control. The gap continued expanding throughout the 20th century, peaking around 7-10 years in the 1970s and 80s in many nations.

Since then, the gap has narrowed slightly in most countries as male life expectancy catches up. But it still persists around 5 years globally, on average. Researchers continue working to understand the multitude of factors driving this historical trend.

Biological Factors

Research suggests that inherent biological differences between the sexes account for some, but not all, of the longevity gap between males and females. Let’s explore some of the key biological factors:


Differences in sex hormones are thought to be involved in lifespan disparities. Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, may provide protective benefits against heart disease and cancer for women. This can contribute to longevity.

Studies indicate estrogen helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood flow in arteries. It also impacts bone density and may help prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. All of these influence lifespan.

Testosterone, the primary male hormone, may work against some of estrogen’s protective effects. High testosterone has been linked to increased muscle mass but also higher risk of heart disease and prostate cancers in men. However, testosterone’s impacts are complex.

Genetics & Biological Aging

Genetics and biological aging processes also differ between the sexes and affect longevity. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome. The second X chromosome provides women redundancy if a mutation occurs in one copy.

Women’s cells also appear to age at a slower rate. Telomeres, the protective caps at the end of chromosomes, shorten more slowly in female cells. Longer telomeres are associated with slower aging and longer lifespans.

Genetic variants linked to longevity are also more common among women. Specific gene variants involved in inflammation, immune function, and cellular aging are associated with female longevity.


Pregnancy and childbearing have complex and poorly understood impacts on women’s longevity. Carrying a child may provide some protective benefits through enduring metabolic and immunological changes.

However, each pregnancy also presents threats to a woman’s health and survival historically. Risks associated with childbirth and its complications may offset or outweigh any protective benefits of enduring a pregnancy. Overall impacts remain unclear.

Behavioral Factors

In addition to biological differences, certain behavioral factors tend to vary between men and women in ways that impact health and longevity.

Risk Taking

Men have a greater tendency toward behaviors that pose health risks and hazards that can cut lives short. For example, men smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at much higher rates than women globally.

Risky sexual behaviors, violence and aggression, and dangerous jobs or recreation also tend to be more common among males. These behaviors are linked to higher mortality from factors like lung cancer, liver disease, accidental death, and homicide.

Preventative Healthcare

Women tend to be more proactive about preventative healthcare, like cancer screenings, dental visits, and annual check-ups. This allows early detection and treatment of any issues. Men, on the other hand, tend to delay or avoid medical care which can cause conditions to advance.

For example, women get colonoscopies and mammograms at higher rates than men get colonoscopies and prostate exams. Early detection of cancer greatly improves survival rates. This behavior pattern contributes to the longevity gender gap.


Dietary patterns also differ between the sexes in ways that affect longevity. Multiple studies show that women tend to eat more fruits, vegetables, and fiber than men. Men consume more meat and fat.

Plant-heavy diets rich in micronutrients are associated with lower risks of many chronic diseases that impact lifespan. So diet likely contributes in a small way to longevity differences.

Stress Management

Psychological and stress management factors may also be at play. Some research indicates men may have more difficulty coping with stressful events like divorce, job loss, or death of a spouse.

Women appear more likely to seek out emotional support during difficult times. Stronger social support networks in women may translate to lower mortality risk.

Social & Environmental Factors

Looking beyond biology and individual behaviors, the social and structural environment also plays a role in the longevity gap between males and females.

Gender Norms & Roles

The socially defined roles, behaviors, and attitudes considered appropriate for men vs women can impact health. Traditional masculine norms around competition, status, self-reliance, and avoidant coping often encourage risky behaviors in men and discourage preventative healthcare.

Meanwhile feminine norms around caretaking, communication, and connection encourage health-promoting behaviors in women like positive social ties and proactive medical care. Gendered social pressures play a part in the disparity.

Violence & Warfare

Historically, males have disproportionately borne the risks of warfare and violence. Fighting in wars cuts lives short directly through combat injuries but also longer term through psychological trauma, substance abuse, and chronic disease development among veterans.

In civilian life, men are also much more likely to be victims of homicides and violent crimes. These environmental exposures contribute to lower male longevity.

Social Support Networks

Research consistently shows women maintain more social connections and get more emotional support from friends and family than men, on average. Strong social ties and support are linked to reduced stress, better mental health outcomes, and lower mortality risk.

So weaker social networks among males may contribute to their shorter lifespans, especially for single men. Marital status seems to confer greater mortality benefits for men than women.

Occupational Hazards

Male-dominated jobs tend to have higher injury rates and exposures to physical hazards from things like chemicals, radiation, and air pollution that can impact health and longevity. Historically, many women have not worked outside the home at such high rates.

However, as more women enter the workforce, occupational exposures have become more equal. So this factor may play a smaller role than in the past.

Socioeconomic Status

Across most societies, women tend to have lower socioeconomic status than men, on average. Somewhat counterintuitively, this appears to contribute to their longevity advantage.

Research shows that in lower socioeconomic groups, women tend to be better off than their male peers in terms of health outcomes. However, gender provides little advantage among higher social strata. Poorer women seem to be better off than poor men.

Medical Care & Research Biases

Gender imbalances in healthcare systems and medical research likely also perpetuate longevity differences:

Research Focus

Historically, medical research heavily focused on male subjects. Many drugs and therapies were developed and tested primarily in men. This resulted in healthcare optimized for males, potentially disadvantaging women.

However, since the 1990s, women have been better included in clinical research in the US. The NIH now requires female subjects in most studies. Similar policies are spreading to other countries to correct this imbalance.

Clinical Practice

Some research indicates doctors may take women’s symptoms less seriously than men resulting in delayed diagnoses. Heart disease in women, for instance, may be dismissed as anxiety or stress. Gender biases can contribute to later detection of serious illnesses in women.

There is also evidence that women are more likely than men to follow medical advice once diagnosed. This adherence to treatment recommendations can help prolong their lives.

Factor Impact on Males Impact on Females
Estrogen levels Linked to higher CVD risk May protect heart health
Testosterone levels May increase certain health risks N/A
Genetics Higher mutation risk with only one X chromosome Second X chromosome provides redundancy
Aggression and risk-taking Increases accidents, violence, substance abuse Lowers exposure to hazards
Preventative healthcare usage Tend to delay or avoid Better compliance and screening
Social connections Weaker ties and emotional support Stronger social networks
Wartime roles Combat exposures cut lives short Less direct warfare impacts


The gender gap in longevity is complex and driven by an intersection of biological, behavioral, social, and medical factors that disadvantage men compared to women. Hormones, genetics, risky behaviors, gender roles, social support, and research biases all likely contribute to varying degrees.

While some inherent causes are difficult to change, increasing awareness of how masculinity norms, stress coping, and preventative care influence men’s health can help narrow the gap. Improving health systems to provide equally high-quality, gender-competent care to both sexes can also turn the tide.

There may always be some gap, but further research and policy efforts focused on men’s health and wellbeing can help create more equal longevity outcomes in the future.

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