The impact of smoking on gender differences in life expectancy: more heterogeneous than often stated

Marc Luy

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background: Throughout industrialized countries, tobacco consumption is seen as the predominant driver of both the trend and the extent of gender differences in life expectancy. However, several factors raise doubts to this generalization. We hypothesize that the impact of smoking on the gender gap is context-specific and differs between populations. Methods: We decompose the gender differences in life expectancy into fractions caused by smoking and other non-biological factors for 53 industrialized countries and the period 1955-2009 to assess the significance of smoking among the causes that can be influenced by direct or indirect interference. Results: The trend of the gender gap can indeed be attributed to smoking in most populations of the western world. However, with regard to the overall extent of male excess mortality, smoking is the main driver only in the minority of the studied populations. While the impact of smoking to gender differences in life expectancy declines in all populations, the contribution of other non-biological factors is in most cases higher at the end than at the beginning of the observation period. Conclusions: Over-generalized statements suggesting that smoking is the main driver of the gender gap in all populations can be misleading. The results of this study demonstrate that - regardless of the prevailing effect of smoking - many populations have still remarkable potentials to further narrow their gender gaps in life expectancy. Although measures to further reduce the prevalence of tobacco consumption must be continued, more attention should be directed to the growing importance of other non-biological factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)706-710
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

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