Aging Today: Why Do Women Tend to Outlive Men?

This piece originally aired during WFSU’s Aging Today segment.

American women can expect to live to age 81, compared with 76 years of age for men. Evidence of women’s biological advantage is found at the very outset of life, with male mortality in their first year exceeding that of females.

But women’s greater longevity also stems from gender differences in social factors. Women are less likely to smoke, have drug or alcohol problems, or die in crashes – and they are more likely to have annual physicals and frequent visits with family and friends. 

Other factors, however, diminish women’s longevity advantage – like their higher risk of poverty and lower levels of physical activity.

These patterns suggest ways that life expectancy could be extended for both genders.  Men’s lives could be lengthened by reducing their risky behaviors and enhancing their social relationships, while women’s could be extended by improving their economic security and encouraging more physical activity.

WFSU-FM Aging Today

The Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy – with support from the Claude Pepper Center, the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, and Osher Lifelong Learning at FSU – sponsors weekly “Aging Today” segments on 88.9, WFSU-FM NPR. Airing each Tuesday at 3:04pm, the one-minute segments highlight critical aging-related trends, issues, and policies, with an emphasis on social science research. 

Listen to archives of Aging Today segments at

Anne Barrett is Director of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy and a Professor of Sociology. Her research areas include gender and aging, subjective aging, ageism, and cultural constructions of later life.

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