Why Men Die Younger than Women

Bridget K. Gorman, PhD; Jen'nan Ghazal Read, PhD


Geriatrics and Aging. 2007;10(3):182-191. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Men have shorter life expectancies than women in most nations around the world. The gender gap in mortality is particularly striking in high-income industrialized nations such as the United States, where women were expected to live 5.3 years longer than men in 2003 (80.1 years compared to 74.8 years). However, in recent decades this gap has been steadily shrinking in many nations. This review examines the mortality gap, primarily in the U.S. context, by providing an overview of the gender pattern in mortality, an explanation of its existence, and an assessment of how and why it has changed over time.

In nearly all nations of the world, men live shorter lives than women.[1] The gender gap is widest in high-income industrialized nations such as the United States and Canada, where the difference between men's and women's life expectancies grew dramatically during the 20th century. In the United States, for example, the gender gap was quite small in 1900, mainly because life expectancies for both sexes were low (46.3 years for men and 48.3 years for women). Since that time, incredible advancements in economic conditions, public health services, and medical technology have resulted in much longer life expectancies for both men and women. During most of this period of rapid improvement, the size of the female advantage in life expectancy also grew, rising from only 2.0 years in 1900 to a high of 7.8 years in 1975.[2]

Since peaking in the 1970s, the gender gap in U.S. mortality has been steadily shrinking to a 5.3-year female advantage in 2003. The narrowing of the gender gap in mortality has also occurred in other wealthy industrialized nations,[3,4] leading some to question the nature of the relationship between gender and mortality and whether the long-standing disadvantaged status of men vis-à-vis women will continue to close, or perhaps disappear altogether. In this article, we summarize the empirical evidence for the gender gap in mortality, with a focus on the United States. We explain how it has changed over time and review the major explanations for the gender gap, including biological, social, and behavioural causes.


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