Women live longer than men even during severe famines and epidemics.


Journal Article

Women in almost all modern populations live longer than men. Research to date provides evidence for both biological and social factors influencing this gender gap. Conditions when both men and women experience extremely high levels of mortality risk are unexplored sources of information. We investigate the survival of both sexes in seven populations under extreme conditions from famines, epidemics, and slavery. Women survived better than men: In all populations, they had lower mortality across almost all ages, and, with the exception of one slave population, they lived longer on average than men. Gender differences in infant mortality contributed the most to the gender gap in life expectancy, indicating that newborn girls were able to survive extreme mortality hazards better than newborn boys. Our results confirm the ubiquity of a female survival advantage even when mortality is extraordinarily high. The hypothesis that the survival advantage of women has fundamental biological underpinnings is supported by the fact that under very harsh conditions females survive better than males even at infant ages when behavioral and social differences may be minimal or favor males. Our findings also indicate that the female advantage differs across environments and is modulated by social factors.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Zarulli, V; Barthold Jones, JA; Oksuzyan, A; Lindahl-Jacobsen, R; Christensen, K; Vaupel, JW

Published Date

  • January 8, 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 115 / 4

Start / End Page

  • E832 - E840

PubMed ID

  • 29311321

Pubmed Central ID

  • 29311321

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1091-6490

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0027-8424

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1073/pnas.1701535115


  • eng