Trends in the male-female life expectancy gap in the United States in the second half of the XXth Century

Magdalena Muszynska, Duke University
Roland Rau, University of Rostock

The improvement in life expectancy at birth in the last half a century was characterized by different patterns for both sexes in the United States. While the female advantage in life expectancy was increasing until the 1970s, males were catching up since then. In this study we are interested to describe the contribution of different age groups and causes to the sex mortality difference in the years 1959-2004. Differences between the sexes in life expectancy at birth have been decomposed into the contribution of selected age groups and major causes of death. Absolute differences in death rates by age and cause of death have been studied on Lexis maps. Results obtained in this study confirm those of other authors: Among the analyzed age-groups, the largest contribution to the sex gap in life expectancy results from the difference in mortality at ages below 45 years. Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the two leading causes of death responsible for the existing sex gap in life-expectancy. Our findings suggest that men were "winners" in the "cardiovascular revolution" since the 1970s, benefiting more from medical advances than women. Similar developments were observed for other causes such as cerebrovascular diseases, cancer, or respiratoy diseases. Their overall impact on the convergence in life expectancy between women and men is less important, though, than cardiovascular diseases.

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Presented in Session 87: Sex Differentials