Study shows: Under these circumstances, men live longer than women

Updated on 04/08/2022 at 17:15

  • Women have a higher average life expectancy than men.
  • Nevertheless, men have the chance to live longer than women.
  • A study shows which two conditions should be met for this.

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Women live longer than men: A Danish study puts this long-held claim into perspective. Accordingly, the average life expectancy is far too rough a measure that obscures the view of deviations from the mean. Under the right conditions, men have the chance to outlive women.

Life expectancy for women is five years higher than for men

According to the Federal Statistical Office, the average life expectancy in Germany in 2021 was 83.2 years for newborn girls and 78.2 years for newborn boys. The numbers are similar in Austria and Switzerland: Austrian women live an average of 83.8 years, Austrians 78.8 years. In Switzerland, the figures were 85.1 years for women and 81 years for men.

Such a difference between the sexes does not only apply in Central Europe. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), men die on average four years earlier than women globally.

There are various explanations for this discrepancy: sometimes genetic advantages of women are seen as decisive, sometimes environmental or behavioral factors – for example that men tend to live unhealthier lives or go to the doctor less often.

The starting point of such analyzes is usually a comparison of life expectancy, i.e. the average lifespan. However, the scientists at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense write in the journal “BMJ Open” that this is a greatly simplified measure. Because it does not take into account fluctuations in lifespans between the sexes.

Men have ‘considerable chance of living longer than women’

To get a fuller picture, the team relies on a different approach – called survival statistics. They examined gender differences in mortality in 199 countries over a period of about 200 years.

The result: “Although life expectancy for men is generally lower than that for women and the mortality rate for men is higher in all age groups, men have a considerable chance of living longer than women,” writes the group led by Marie-Pier Bergeron- Boucher. She even cites a few examples of countries where men were at times more than 50 percent likely to live longer than women: Iceland in the late 20th century, Jordan and Iran in the 1950s, or Bhutan from 1995 to 2010.

In general, the probability that men live longer than women varied between 25 and 50 percent in almost all years and populations examined. In other words: in the past 200 years, one to two out of every four men (25 to 50 percent) lived longer than women.

Survival statistics paint a more complex picture

This means that the majority of women are still older than men, the authors write: “But the minority that doesn’t do this is not small.” By far not all men live shorter lives than women, which is overlooked in pure comparisons of life expectancy. The difference in life expectancy is also based on the fact that a small part of the male population in many places only lives for a very short time. “For example, in most countries, young boys die more than young girls,” the study said.

In fact, survival statistics paint a more complex picture than a mere comparison of average life expectancies. Data from the USA shows that variations can be caused by external factors: there, between 2015 and 2019, the probability that men would live longer than women was 40 percent.

Under these circumstances, men can live longer than women

In fact, men who are married and have college degrees are likely to live longer than women, the study found. The analysis shows that men with a lower level of education and unmarried men had a particularly low chance of surviving a wife. Married men and those with college degrees, on the other hand, tended to live longer than women who were unmarried or had no high school diploma.

The team emphasizes that lifespan length is the result of an individual complex combination of biological, environmental and behavioral factors. “While being male or female affects life expectancy, it is not the only determinant contributing to inequalities.”

A differentiated view is all the more important: “These results refute the general impression that ‘men do not live as long as women’ and reveal a more nuanced inequality in the life expectancy of women and men.” The blanket statement that half of the population is disadvantaged by gender differences in life expectancy is misleading: “The inequalities are more complex.” Efforts to reduce lifespan discrepancies would therefore need to target different factors, causes and age groups. (dpa/fwt/sbi)

Updated on 04/23/2022 at 11:30 am

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