You may already know there’s a life expectancy gap around the globe. In 2021, Our World in Data found that women across continents live five years longer than men, on average: while women tend to live up to 73.8 years, men clock in at about 68.4 years.
Depending on the country, this gap widens and narrows. For example, Australian women tend to live less than three years longer than their male counterparts — while in Thailand, the gap is almost nine years. In 2023, the U.S. fell on the higher end of that spectrum: American women lived 6 years longer than men. It’s the largest the American life expectancy gap has been in over two decades.
So, why are we outliving men? Is it mere girl power, or something more concrete? A lot remains a mystery—but here’s what people know so far:
Because simply, it’s science.
The female advantage crosses kingdom, phylum, and order. Biological researchers at University Lyon 1 discovered that females across 101 species, including elephants, tigers, and bears (oh my!) live eighteen percent longer than their male counterparts. Some are putting up jaw-dropping numbers: lionesses outlive male lions by fifty percent! Simply put, female mammals tend to live longer than males, no matter the species.
Because women socialize more.
Harvard Health recently discovered that those with “fewer and weaker” social ties tend to die earlier and more often. Guess what else we found? Women have a tendency to have stronger, longer friendships and wider support networks.
And those lionesses from earlier? The same researchers also found that adult female lions live communally in a pride, hunting together and raising each other’s offspring—while adult male lions roll solo or with just one other male. Sisterhood literally saves lives. (We’re willing to bet that most of us already knew that.)
Because women’s bodies may be better designed for survival.
During the COVID-19 crisis, a wide-ranging study from the American Medical Association found that women with coronavirus experienced more favorable outcomes than men, including less fatalities. A possible reason? Sex-based immunity. Compelling evidence suggests that the female immune system contains more mature and active neutrophils, or “white-blood cells that protect against invading microorganisms.” This gives the female body increased protection against infections, and, as stated in the stude, even certain cancers.
A supercharged immune system isn’t the only built-in shield the female body might have—estrogen, the sex hormone that powers the female reproductive system, can help lower cholesterol, and in turn, combat heart disease. According to Harvard Health, women are 50% less likely to die of heart disease than men.
Because women are more likely to take care of their health.
In a national survey, more than 93% of women reported seeing a doctor and/or healthcare provider within the previous two years. Experts have found that women are more likely to take the reins when it comes to their health: they attend annual exams with primary care doctors, sick visits, and referrals with specialists regularly. This is especially impressive, considering the fact that women are more likely to have less-than-pleasant experiences when visiting a doctor.
Now, before we break out the confetti to celebrate long lady lifespans, let’s collectively note that this survival is against all odds. Because looking at the data, women are in an increasingly vulnerable, and even life-threatening, position around the globe.
Women are living longer:
Despite inequalities in the healthcare system.
In a 2021 exposé, CNM Diana Spalding gathered data from several studies across the medical world—and found shocking results. On average, women in emergency rooms wait 15 minutes longer to be seen than men with the exact same symptoms. Another study found that women who complained of pain were more likely to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication instead of painkillers. Yet another found that women are forced to wait longer to be diagnosed for a myriad of conditions, including brain cancer – and during a heart attack, women are “seven times more likely” to be misdiagnosed and discharged from a hospital. And if you’re a woman of color, especially a Black woman, you’re even more likely to be passed over and shrugged off during a life-threatening emergency.
Medical spaces are predisposed to disregard and doubt the pain and testimonies of female patients. Women are less likely to be believed, and more likely to have their concerns downplayed—and that’s terrifying.
Despite earning less around the globe.
It’s no secret that women make less than men in almost every country in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, the global gender pay gap won’t close until 2133 — and until then, women around the world are more likely than men to struggle to make ends meet.
In the United States, more women are in the workforce than ever — and yet, they’re still more likely to experience poverty across nearly all races and ethnicities. The Population Reference Bureau named access to healthcare, wealth, and diet as key factors in determining life expectancy. In essence? Poverty can be a death sentence — and with millions of women around the globe living below the line, it’s a miracle we continue to push forward.
Despite violence against women worldwide.
In 2008, former UN Division Commander General Patrick Cammaert remarked: “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” And sadly, gender-based violence isn’t limited to wartime. Across the globe, more than five women and girls are killed each hour by a family member. More than a third of women experience sexual abuse, with 120 million survivors being girls and women under 20. And one in three women has experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. Women everywhere live constantly under threat, both inside and outside their homes.
In short? Women are surviving against all odds—and we’re ready for real, positive change.
Protect women. Prioritize women. Pay women. Believe women.