The gender gap in longevity

Beer - not great for your longevity, but better than vodka

Beer – not great for your longevity, but better than vodka

People continue to live longer and longer around the world (for an interesting discussion of how superannuation should respond, see Paul Keating on Cuffelinks), which is mostly good. But different parts of populations have quite different experiences of mortality improvement.

The (UK) Institute of Actuaries publishes a regular longevity bulletin. The latest one, about gender differences, showed just how different those different experiences can be. It is a summary of the experience of gender gaps in longevity around the world.

Around the world, life expectancy for women is greater than that of men. At birth, the gap in life expectancy between men and women ranges from nearly 12 years, in Russia, to just under four years in Norway (Australia is at the Norwegian end of things, at just over 4 years). And those gaps aren’t necessarily stable over time. In Japan for example, the gap has increased in the last sixty years. So what causes such large differences?

  • With Russia comes vodka; differences in alcohol consumption make a big difference, and in Russia, men tend to drink the hard stuff, while women stick to beer and wine.
  • Also cigarettes – one of the reasons Japan has a large gap (around seven years) between men and women is a massive difference in smoking behaviour between men and women.
Source: Actuaries Institute Longevity bulletin 5

Source: Actuaries Institute Longevity bulletin 5

Interestingly, a study of Catholic communities in Bavaria found that, under the special environmental conditions of nuns and monks, biological factors appeared to confer a maximum survival advantage for women of no more than one year in remaining life expectancy at young adult ages (Luy, 2003).  So much of the difference between male and female mortality is likely to be lifestyle. It won’t be the whole difference; after all infant mortality rates are higher for boys, and it’s hard to imagine much of a lifestyle difference.

Anyway, read the whole thing, and if you’re male, think about how much of that monkish lifestyle you think is worth taking on for the sake of a few more years of life.