Life expectancy gap between men and women is shrinking

People around the world are living longer, and the sex gap in life expectancy is closing, according to new research.

The study, published in PLOS One, also found other trends in life expectancy are less universal but are often shared by continents.

The Spanish-based team of researchers used a United Nations database to track 9 different mortality indicators in 194 countries from 1990-2020.

They found that, between 1990 and 2010, countries converged into 5 different “clubs”, which roughly correlate to 5 regions of the world.

One group, for instance, was mainly high-income OECD countries: listed in the paper as “located in Europe, North and Central America, Japan, Chile, and the Australasia region”. This group had the highest longevity outcomes.

Central African countries formed another club, with the worst longevity outcomes.

Different countries changed clubs over the 20-year period, especially when affected by big events like a war.

These events also sometimes caused large sex disparities. “Male populations from the former Soviet states suffered hectic mortality swings due to the fall of the Soviet Union,” the authors of the paper write.

The researchers then used this data to predict what the clusters would look like in 2030. They found that the groups would still roughly correlate to continents, and life expectancy would be increasing everywhere – although at different rates depending on club.

The same is true of the sex gap in longevity, with men’s life expectancy catching up to women’s.

At the moment, women outlive men in every country in the world, but that difference in life expectancy varies from a few months to nearly a decade depending on the country.

There’s no one reason this gap exists, but there are a variety of both social and biological factors at play – such as men being more likely to smoke, and women’s (on average) smaller bodies being linked to increased longevity.

“In the future, this gap will narrow, although sex differences will continue to exist,” write the researchers in their paper.

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