Why do women live longer than men?

Across the world, women are expected to live longer than men. But why is there a sex gap in life expectancy, and can men do anything about it?

Statistics show that in almost every country, the average female life expectancy is longer than it is for men. And although more people than ever before are living to 100, women are far more likely to join the centenarian club.

We look at some possible reasons why women tend to live longer and discuss whether men can do anything to close the gap.

How much longer do women live than men?

In the UK, the average lifespan is about four years longer for women than men.

The average life expectancy for males born between 2020 and 2022 in the UK is 78.6 years compared to 82.6 years for females, according to the Office of National Statistics [1].

This isn’t a new phenomenon — since records began, women have had the upper hand in the survival stakes. Even in the 19th century, when infectious diseases were widespread and tended to kill men and women indiscriminately, the life expectancy gap was about two years in the UK [2].

Do women just outlive men in older age?

Women have lower mortality rates than men at all stages of life. The lifespan gap even exists between female and male babies [3].

Why do women live longer than men?

The explanation for women’s remarkably consistent survival advantage seems to be partly behavioural and partly biological.

There are lots of theories relating to women’s longer life expectancy, but we’ll start with the most fundamental difference between men and women: the Y chromosome.

Genetic reasons that may explain why women live longer than men:

As humans, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes that contain our DNA. Women have two X chromosomes, but men have just one X chromosome and a Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is about a third of the size of the X chromosome and only contains about 6% of the number of genes. So, what are men missing out on?

5 theories on how genetics may influence the longevity gap [3]:

  1. Second X chromosome

Having two copies of the X chromosome means women can supposedly inactivate the faultier one, or at least mask any harmful genetic mutations with their healthier X chromosome [4].


  1. Stronger female immune response

We’ve all heard of man flu, but do men really experience illness differently to women? Women mount a more effective immune response than men, so it’s possible that they could experience milder symptoms. Studies show women clear infection faster than men and have lower mortality after infection [5].


  1. Protective effects of oestrogen

Research suggests that women’s higher oestrogen levels have a protective effect on cardiovascular health (at least before menopause).


  1. Mother’s curse

This theory explains how mitochondrial DNA, present in eggs but not sperm, is only selected based on excluding harmful mutations that affect women. So, any male-unfriendly mutations could remain as the mitochondrial DNA is passed on [6].


  1. Lower testosterone levels

Studies on castrated men, who have significantly lower testosterone levels, have reported large differences in lifespan compared to peers. A Korean study found that castrated males lived on average 14.6 years longer than non-castrated males [7]. However, this certainly isn’t a valid way to attain a longer life!

Although biological differences seem to play a part in the longevity gap, much of this evidence is unsupported or poorly researched, and it’s generally agreed that genetics is only one side of the story.



Social and lifestyle-related factors that may explain why women live longer than men:

Men are more likely to die from accidents and suicide. They also have a higher prevalence and death rate from some of the world’s leading causes of mortality, such as heart disease and cancer [3].

Social and lifestyle factors that tend to have a bias towards men could explain some of these trends. Let’s look at some of these factors and how you can manage them to improve your health and wellbeing.

6 theories on how lifestyle may influence the longevity gap:

  1. Diet and exercise

In England, 69% of men are overweight or obese, compared to 59% of women [8].

Eating fatty foods, not exercising enough, and being overweight can increase levels of bad cholesterol. This is a particular concern for men as they’re more likely to have high cholesterol, and typically develop heart disease seven to ten years earlier than women [9].

It’s a good idea to check your cholesterol level, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke. For some people, exercise and a healthy diet alone might not be enough to reduce bad cholesterol to within a healthy range. In these cases, you might be offered medication like a statin.

Tips for maintaining a healthy weight:

  • Take regular exercise — cycling, swimming, and running are great ways to get active. If you’ve not run before, the Couch to 5K app is a good way break yourself in gently.
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet — you can eat for longevity by following a nutritious diet like the Mediterranean diet, which is also good for your heart.


Women in England are less likely to be overweight than men because of healthier lifestyle choices.

  1. Drinking too much alcohol

In 2021 in England, 28% of men drank over the recommended weekly maximum of 14 units, versus 15% of women [10]. Men are also more likely than women to use almost all types of recreational drugs [11].

Excessive drinking contributes to:

  • Alcohol-related injuries and violence
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Road traffic accidents

Cutting down alcohol lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar levels and reduces the build-up of fatty deposits in your liver.

If you’re concerned that you’re drinking too much, Alcohol Change UK provides tools and strategies to help you make healthy changes. Our Liver Function Blood Test helps detect signs of fatty liver disease and inflammation caused by alcohol.


  1. Smoking

In the UK in 2021, 15.1% of men smoked compared to 11.5% of women [12].

Smoking increases your risk of many conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease

If you smoke, your risk of heart disease would be halved a year after quitting. And after 15 years, it would be similar to that of someone who had never smoked. The NHS stop smoking services offers some great advice.


  1. Avoiding doctors

Men see their doctor less frequently than women. They make fewer general practice appointments and are less likely to attend NHS Health Checks [13]. Unfortunately, this could put men at risk of poorer health outcomes. 

In our attitudes to health survey, we found that three-quarters of women were up to date with their health checks, compared to only 57% of men.


  1. Risk-taking behaviours

Men, especially young men, are much more likely to engage in risky behaviours than women. It’s reported that around three quarters of all young car driver deaths are male [14].

Men’s tendency to take more risks may have some basis in biology, but it’s also linked to toxic masculinity — a cultural pressure to conform to an unhealthy image of what it means to be masculine [15].


  1. Mental health management

Men are known for hiding their feelings. They’re less likely to seek medical support for mental health problems than women [16]. And they’re more likely to turn to unhealthy behaviours, like excessive drinking, to cope with stress [17].

Suicide in England and Wales is three times more common in men than in women, and this gap has increased over time. Sadly, suicide is now the leading cause of death for men under 50 [18].

If you’re struggling with low mood, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, please talk to your doctor. If you find it hard to open up to friends or family, you might find Mind’s online resources helpful.


Men are less likely to seek medical help for mental health problems than women.

What can men do to increase longevity?

Although some factors that affect our lifespan are out of our control, there are aspects of our health that we have the power to change.

Men (and women) can take steps to enjoy a longer life, such as getting regular health checks and screens, making healthy lifestyle choices, and managing stress. These healthy behaviours have the potential to not only add years to your life, but to make those years healthy ones.

Find out more about living longer in better health in our Longevity Hub.

Time to check your future health

Taking a blood test to check biomarkers linked to longevity can help you spot potential problems so you can take early action.

Our Optimal Health Blood Test covers 58 biomarkers. It checks liver and kidney function, cholesterol levels, and other heart health markers, to give you a fuller picture of your cardiovascular disease risk.

Your results may help you take steps to improve your health, sometimes with simple lifestyle changes.



  1. ONS. 2024. Male and female life expectancy in the UK 2020 to 2022 [online] Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/bulletins/nationallifetablesunitedkingdom/2020to2022#:~:text=1.,from%2083.0%20years%20for%20females> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  2. The King's Fund. 2021. What is happening to life expectancy in England? [online] Available at: <https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/whats-happening-life-expectancy-england> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  3. Austad, S.N. 2006. Why women live longer than men: Sex differences in longevity, 3(2), 0–92. doi:10.1016/s1550-8579(06)80198-1 
  4. Schneider, J.; Cebrat, S.; Stauffer, D. 1998. Why do Women Live Longer than Men? A Monte Carlo Simulation of Penna-type Models with X and Y Chromosomes. International Journal of Modern Physics C, 9(5), 721–725. doi:10.1142/S0129183198000625
  5. Mitchell, E.; Graham, A.L.; Úbeda, F.; Wild, G. 2022. On maternity and the stronger immune response in women. Nature Communications, 13(1), 4858. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32569-6.
  6. Florencia Camus, M.; Clancy, D.J.; Dowling, D.K. 2012. Mitochondria, Maternal Inheritance, and Male Aging, 22(18). doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.07.018 
  7. Min, K.J.; Lee, C.K.; Park, H.N. 2012. The lifespan of Korean eunuchs. Current Biology, 22(18), R792–3 [online]. Available at: <chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(12)00712-9.pdf> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  8. NHS England. 2022. Health Survey for England, 2021 part 1. [online] Available at: <https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2021/part-2-overweight-and-obesity> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  9. Maas, A. H.; Appelman, Y. E. 2010. Gender differences in coronary heart disease. Netherlands heart journal: monthly journal of the Netherlands Society of Cardiology and the Netherlands Heart Foundation18(12), 598–602.
  10. Drinkaware. 2024. Alcohol Consumption UK. [online] Available at: <https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/research/research-and-evaluation-reports/alcohol-consumption-uk> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  11. National Institute of Health. 2020. Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. [online] Available at: <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  12. Office for National Statistics. 2021. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2021#:~:text=In%202021%2C%2015.1%25%20of%20men,lowest%20(8.0%25)%20in%202021> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  13. Baker, P. 2024. Missing persons: Men’s use of primary care services. Trends in Urology and Men’s Health, 15(1), 2-5. doi/10.1002/tre.950.
  14. Department for Transport. 2015. Facts on Young Car Drivers. [online] Available at: <chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a80782ded915d74e33fa9b6/young-car-drivers-2013-data.pdf> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  15. Fleming, P.J.; Lee, J.G.; Dworkin, S.L. 2014. Real men don't: constructions of masculinity and inadvertent harm in public health interventions. American Journal of Public Health, 104(6), 1029-35. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301820.
  16. Mental Health Foundation. n.d. Survey of people with lived experience of mental health problems reveals men less likely to seek medical support. [online] Available at: <https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/survey-people-lived-experience-mental-health-problems-reveals-men-less-likely-seek-medical> [Accessed 23 April 2024].
  17. Mind. 2020. Get it off your chest: Men’s mental health 10 years on. [online] Available at: <chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.mind.org.uk/media/6771/get-it-off-your-chest_a4_final.pdf> [Accessed 30 April 2024).
  18. Office for National Statistics. 2020. Leading causes of death, UK - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/articles/leadingcausesofdeathuk/2001to2018> [Accessed 23 April 2024].

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