sex differences in U.S. life expectancy from 1790 to 2000

The U.S. population’s life expectancy at birth increased by about 32 years from 1790 to 2000.  That improvement is a fundamental indicator of greater knowledge and better organized society.

From 1790 to 2000, females’ life expectancy increased more than males’ life expectancy did.  In 1790, male and female life expectancy at birth were about equal.  In 2000, females had about 5 years more expected life than did males.  The female advantage was not merely a result of reducing female mortality in childbirth.  From 1790 to 2000, females’ expected remaining years of life at age 45 increased by about 4 years relative to males’ expected life at 45.

The historical trend toward increasing female advantage ended about 1970-1980.  That’s when women’s participation in the workforce began to increase relatively sharply.  From 1970 to 2000, the labor force participation rate of women ages 25 to 54 increased from 50% to 77%. During that period, women’s life expectancy advantage over men decreased by 2.3 years.

The U.S. appears to be slowly moving back to more sex equality in the fundamental fact of being alive.  But much work remains to be done to raise men’s life expectancy.

Statistics: female and male life expectancy in the U.S., 1790 to 2000; labor force participation rates by sex, 1948-2011 (Excel version)

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