Well-Being Longevity

Men have a high likelihood of outliving women, global study finds

“Not all females outlive males, even if a majority do. But the minority that do not is not small.”
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Story at a glance


  • Despite conventional theories relying on women’s generally longer life expectancies, researchers found between 25 and 50 percent of men have outlived women over the past 200 years. 

  • For the analysis published in the British Medical Journal, researchers sought to quantify the probability that men outlived women using data from 199 populations across every continent over two centuries.

  • The “out survival statistic” measures the likelihood a person from a high death rate population will outlive a person from a population where the death rate is low.  

Men have a high likelihood of outliving women globally, especially if they are married and educated, according to a new analysis.  

Despite conventional theories relying on women’s generally longer life expectancies, researchers found between 25 and 50 percent of men have outlived women over the past 200 years. 

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

“Not all females outlive males, even if a majority do. But the minority that do not is not small,” they added. 

Data from 2020 shows life expectancy for males worldwide is 71 years and 75 years for females. 

For the analysis published in the British Medical Journal, researchers sought to quantify the probability the men outlived women — utilizing the “out survival statistic” — using data from 199 populations across every continent over two centuries.  

The “out survival statistic” measures the likelihood a person from a high death rate population will outlive a person from a population where the death rate is low.  

The team used life tables by sex and age for 41 countries from Human Mortality Database, plus separate data for formerly East and West Germany, and for the U.K. They also used abridged life tables from the World Population Prospects 2019, which offers sex-specific data for 199 countries in five-year age groups and periods from 1950–54 to 2015–19. Then marriage and education level were evaluated using U.S. data on population counts and deaths.  

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Researchers found that between 1 and 2 out of every 4 men have outlived women over the past 200 years. Yet the probability that men outlive women is higher in low and middle-income countries, as the probability fell in developed countries until 1970, according to the research. 

Broken down by marital status, the probability of married men outliving women was 39 percent. It was 43 percent for those with a college degree. And married men with degrees have an advantage over unmarried women with a high school education, with researchers pointing to the advantage of stable relationships. 

However, researchers found the death rate has declined faster for women than men, as child mortality rates have fallen. They note that men are still disadvantaged at younger and older ages given a higher prevalence of smoking and drinking in their 20s and 30s -— leading to premature death later in life. 

“Efforts in reducing lifespan inequalities must thus target diverse factors, causes and ages,” they conclude. 

Data from the World Bank shows the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77 years.