Study calls into question belief women live longer than men

Researchers said that just looking at life expectancy could lead to ‘distorted perceptions’

02 August 2022

A new study has called into question the long-held belief that women outlive men.

Although men have a lower life expectancy than women, men have a “substantial chance of outliving females”, according to academics from Denmark.

Life expectancies – which summarise the average length of life – are a “simplistic measure” which are often interpreted as meaning that “men do not live as long as women”, researchers said.

They argue that simply looking at life expectancy means that people are not accounting for variation around the averages, and a “sizeable portion of males might live longer than a sizeable portion of females, even if the life expectancy shows a female advantage”.

A better measure could be to examine the lifespan of men and women across different countries, they said.

Their study, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined data on the lifespan of men and women across 199 countries for almost 200 years.

The analysis concluded that men have a high probability of outliving women — especially those who are married and have a degree.

“Males who are married or have a university degree tend to outlive females who are unmarried or do not have a high school diploma,” the authors said.

They found that the probability of a man outliving a woman is between 25% and 50%.

They pointed out that large differences in life expectancy mask substantial overlap in lifespan between the sexes.

“A blind interpretation of life expectancy differences can sometimes lead to a distorted perception of the actual inequalities [in lifespan],” the authors wrote.

They concluded: “Although male life expectancy is generally lower than female life expectancy, and male death rates are usually higher at all ages, males have a substantial chance of outliving females.

“These findings challenge the general impression that ‘men do not live as long as women’ and reveal a more nuanced inequality in lifespans between females and males.”

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