Increasing in many countries for several years, life expectancy fell in 2020 under the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. A study published Monday in the journal International Journal of Epidemiology shows that the progress made in this area was reversed last year. And the male sex is particularly concerned.
The authors of the study, researchers from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), the University of Southern Denmark and the Max-Planck Institute (Germany), studied 29 developed countries: 27 are located in Europe, the other two in America (United States and Chile). According to the data they collected, life expectancy fell on average by 0.88 years for men and 0.71 years for women in these countries in 2020.
The gap is (re) widening
This decrease is even greater than one year for men in eleven countries (Scotland, Czech Republic, England and Wales, Belgium, Italy, Chile, Spain, Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, United States) and for women in eight. countries (Slovenia, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, United States). It is more than half a year in 22 countries, including France (-0.67 years for men or 79.15 years, -0.6 for women or 84.94 years). In 2020, life expectancy increased in just two countries, Norway and Denmark.
But the study notes that “death rates from Covid-19 tend to be higher in men than in women”, which is necessarily reflected in life expectancy. It thus fell more for men than for women in practically all countries except Spain, Slovenia, Estonia and Northern Ireland and Croatia.
This decline comes as men have started to gradually catch up with women in terms of life expectancy in recent years. In 2010, French women had 6.7 years of life expectancy at birth more than men according to INSEE. In 2019, this gap was “only” 5.72 years according to the study unveiled Monday. However, in 2020, it has grown again (5.79 years).
Why do men live shorter?
It is a reality in France and in the rest of the world: women tend to live longer than men. What is this longevity due to? No one can explain it exactly, but scientists suggest several reasons, behavioral, social or biological.
Several theories advance the fact that men live shorter because they have more risky behaviors. They would exercise more dangerous jobs, have more addictions and a poorer lifestyle than women. They also commit suicide more often.
But for other researchers, the explanation is linked to the fact that they are more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease. Studies believe that estrogen protects women against this type of disease.
Some defend for their part the theory of unprotected X. According to a study published last year, women have a genetic advantage over men because they have two X chromosomes, when they have only one. In other words, when one X chromosome is damaged in women, the other can take over, something that is not possible in men.
As might be expected, the study by British, German and Danish researchers confirms that it is the increase in mortality among the elderly that “contributed the most to lowering life expectancy between 2019 and 2020” . In Western Europe, it is the death rates of octogenarians that have plunged life expectancy.
Excess mortality under 60 in the United States
In Eastern Europe, it is rather those of seniors aged 60 to 79 years. According to scientists, this is partly explained by the delay in terms of the management of cardiovascular diseases that the countries of Eastern Europe have accumulated.
In Lithuania, Bulgaria and Poland, the increase in under-60 mortality is even significant. Along with the United States, these are also the four countries studied where life expectancy fell the most among men in 2020.
In Uncle Sam’s country, the notable increase in under-60 mortality has even been “the main contributor to the loss of life expectancy” among men. And if “young” Americans have been more affected than others, it is first of all because they present “higher co-morbidities”, such as obesity. According to the researchers, this excess mortality is also explained by “inequalities in access to health care” and by “structural racism” faced by blacks and Latinos.