Women live longer than men. But in the Northwest—as in the U.S., Sweden, Great Britain, and probably elsewhere in Europe—the gap between women and men is narrowing. Take British Columbia: in 1975, women could expect to live nearly eight years longer than men. But by 2004, that gap had narrowed to just over 4 years. Women are still healthier, on average, but not by as much.
But, surprisingly, that’s not a pattern seen in Japan. There, the gap between male and female life expectancies is still growing—more slowly, perhaps, than in previous years, but growing nonetheless. A baby girl born in 2003 in Japan could expect to live past 85 years; a boy, to the age 78.7. (In comparison, average life expectancy in the United States is about 77.3 years.)
In the graph below, each dot represents the gap between male and female life expectancies in a given year; Japan is in orange, BC in blue. In BC, the male-female gap peaked in 1975; in Japan, it’s still on the upswing.
When the life expectancy gap narrows, women’s lifespans still tend to grow; it’s just that men’s lifespans grow faster. In BC, that meant that life expectancy gains for the population overall actually accelerated after the gap between men and women narrowed. Which could mean that Japan—which already has the world’s longest lifespans—could further outdistance the Northwest in life expectancy when (and if) their male-female gap begins to narrow.