Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Which countries have the largest gender gap in life expectancy?

Russia has the largest gender gap in life expectancy of 11.6 years

Russia has the largest gender gap in life expectancy of 11.6 years Image: REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Future of Global Health and Healthcare

We know that women across the world live longer than men. But how much longer? Well, that depends on where they live. The World Health Organisation has released new data that shows the gender gap in life expectancy varying dramatically among countries.

Life expectancy worldwide increased by five years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest rise since the 1960s, the UN agency said.

Globally, life expectancy for a baby born in 2015 was 71 years for women and 69 for men, with women in Japan and men in Switzerland typically living the longest. The shortest lifespans are still in Africa: Sierra Leone had the lowest life expectancies for both genders (51 for women and 49 for men), according to the WHO’s World Health Statistics: Monitoring Health for the SDGs.

So where is the gender gap in life expectancy widest?

In other words, where are men likely to die at a much younger age than women? In Russia, the country with the widest gap, men can expect to live to 64.7 years old and women to 76.3, a difference of 11.6 years.

The countries with the largest gender gap in life expectancy
The countries with the largest gender gap in life expectancy

At the other end of the scale, in Mali, where lifespans are 58.2 for men and 58.3 for women, the difference is only 0.1 years.

Interestingly, many of the countries with the widest life-expectancy gender gaps were part of the former Soviet Union. Belarus, in second place, for example, is just behind Russia with a difference of 11.5 years, and Lithuania, Ukraine, Latvia, and Estonia also feature on the list.

In Syria, where conflict has been raging for more than five years, men are expected to die 10 years before women: 59.9 compared to 69.9.

Many of the countries where there is hardly any gender gap in life expectancy are African.

The countries with the smallest gender gap in life expectancy
The countries with the smallest gender gap in life expectancy

Healthy life expectancy

According to the new WHO data, the biggest overall increase in life expectancy has been seen on the continent – up by 9.4 years to an average age of 60. This is thanks to improvements in healthcare for children and better access to medicines. Malaria control and the availability of drugs for HIV have made a significant contribution.

However, as the report highlights, there is still much work to be done: 22 countries – all of them in sub-Saharan Africa – have life expectancies of less than 60 years.

Healthy life expectancy, a measure of the number of years of good health that a newborn in 2015 can expect, stands at 63.1 years globally (64.6 years for females and 61.5 years for males).

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, said: “The world has made great strides in reducing the needless suffering and premature deaths that arise from preventable and treatable diseases.

“But the gains have been uneven. Supporting countries to move towards universal health coverage based on strong primary care is the best thing we can do to make sure no one is left behind.”

This year’s report brings together the most recent data on the health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by the United Nations in September 2015.

The report highlights significant data gaps that will need to be filled in order to reliably track progress towards the health-related SDGs and the gender gap in life expectancy. For example, an estimated 53% of deaths globally aren’t registered, although several countries – including Brazil, China, Iran, South Africa, and Turkey – have made considerable progress in that area.

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