There is evidence to suggest that greater gender equality can have positive effects on the health and well-being of both women and men, which may lead to longer life expectancies. Studies have found that gender inequality can lead to poorer health outcomes for women, such as increased rates of maternal mortality, domestic violence, and lack of access to healthcare. Conversely, greater gender equality can lead to improved health outcomes for women, such as reduced rates of maternal mortality and greater access to healthcare.
The first global study to look at how gender equality affects life expectancy discovered that as it improves, both men and women live longer. However, differences between countries classified as regions based on socioeconomic development and geographic proximity suggest that, while progress in gender equality initially benefits women’s lives and health, it also helps men live longer lives, eventually closing the gender gap in life expectancy.
Lead author Dr. Cat Pinho-Gomes, Honorary Research Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health, UK in partnership with Imperial College London, said the results – published in the lead-up to International Women’s Day – suggest that addressing longstanding gender inequality and empowering women might help extend longevity for both women and men.
Our study has important implications for policymakers all over the world, especially as the world slowly recovers from the myriad shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a gendered impact across multiple domains of life. On this International Women’s Day, let us not forget that increasing women’s representation across multiple sectors contributes to wealthier and thus healthier societies for all.Dr. Pinho-Gomes
“Many of the factors that determine how long you will live – like working and living conditions, exposure to pollution, access to health care, education, income, and social support – are layered with gender differences around the world,” she said.
“As countries make greater progress towards gender equality and women are afforded the opportunity to participate more fully in political, economic, and social life, the whole of society reaps the rewards.”
Global events such as rising living costs, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, and large-scale conflict and displacement, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest report, are impeding progress toward gender parity. As a result, socioeconomic development and improvements in living and working conditions may be jeopardized, potentially undermining recent gains in life expectancy.
The researchers used a modified global gender gap index (mGGGI), based on the index developed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), and applied it across 156 countries between 2010 and 2021 to investigate whether gender equality was associated with life expectancy (LE) for women and men and to assess the gender gap in life expectancy across the globe.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index assesses the current state and evolution of gender equality across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). The health dimension was excluded from this study because it includes healthy life expectancy, which was the subject of this study.
Gender equality in education had the strongest association with longer LE for both men and women among the three dimensions included in this study (political, economic, and educational).
“This suggests that investing in education is critical, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where many girls continue to be denied access to education and resources are scarce,” Dr. Pinho-Gomes added.
“Even in high-income countries, where significant progress has been made in recent years to address gender inequalities, investing in gender equality may benefit life expectancy, particularly for men. This study confirmed what we had previously observed for EU countries using a different index, thereby confirming the validity of our findings.”
“The weaker link between gender equality in the political domain and the gender gap in LE raises concerns about how gender equality is implemented by political systems around the world,” she said. “As recent resignations of high-profile female politicians have demonstrated, women continue to face significant challenges in this field, including discrimination, balancing private, family, and political life, gaining support from political parties, and securing campaign funding.”
Overall, in 2021, each ten percent increase in the mGGGI was associated with a 4.3-month increase in women’s LE and a 3.5-month increase in men’s LE, leading to an 8-month wider gender gap, but there was considerable variation between geographical regions.
“Our study has important implications for policymakers all over the world, especially as the world slowly recovers from the myriad shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a gendered impact across multiple domains of life,” Dr. Pinho-Gomes added.
“On this International Women’s Day, let us not forget that increasing women’s representation across multiple sectors contributes to wealthier and thus healthier societies for all.”