Gender Equality Prolongs Life Expectancy for Women and Men

Closing the gender gap, especially in education, helps both women and men to live longer, a new study finds.

Just before International Women’s Day, António Guterres, secretary general of the World Health Organization, warned that decades-long progress on women’s rights is "vanishing before our eyes" and said that if trends continue, gender equality will be only reached in 300 years from now.

While the economic and health benefits of gender equality are well-examined, researchers from the George Institute for Global Health and Imperial College London looked at how gender parity affects life expectancy (LE).

They used a modified global gender gap index (mGGGI), which benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender equality across four dimensions — economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The World Economic Forum (WEF) developed the index and included data from 156 countries between 2010 and 2021.

The researchers excluded the health dimension for the study published in PLOS Global Public Health because it covers healthy life LE. They found that gender equality in education had the strongest association with longer life expectancy for both women and men, compared with political and economic dimensions.

In 2021, each 10% rise 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 globally, but there were considerable variations across regions. In high-income countries, such an increase narrowed the gender gap by six months, simultaneously leading to a 13 and 16-month wider gender gap in South and Southeast Asia and Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa, respectively.

"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 reward," says lead author Cat Pinho-Gomes, M.D., Honorary Research Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health and Imperial College London.

Gender equality has long been associated with better health outcomes for women.

A 2005 study discovered that gender inequality might contribute to mental health problems, as women who live in states with high economic autonomy and better protection of reproductive rights were less likely to develop depressive symptoms. Greater reproductive rights were also associated with lower rates of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A recent study from the Commonwealth Fund revealed maternal and infant mortality rates to be 62% higher in U.S. states where access to abortion was more restricted. These findings are extremely important when reproductive rights in the U.S. are under unprecedented attack after the Supreme Court stripped federal protection to abortion.

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