The age-old belief that women live longer than men is wrong, a new study spanning 200 years of humanity across all continents of the globe has found.

Men have a lower life expectancy than women, but Danish researchers found males have a “substantial chance of outliving” females.

That was especially true if men were married and have a degree, the study said.

A retired man and woman sit on a park bench.
Questions have been raised over the theory that women outlive men in new Danish study. (Getty)

Couples influence each other’s health, the researchers said, and this is particularly true for men, who they found benefit more than women from being in a stable relationship.

While it’s received wisdom that women generally outlive men, the scientists said between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of males actually outlived females.

“Not all females outlive males, even if a majority do,” the researchers said.

“But the minority that do not is not small.”

The study, published today in the British Medical Journal, found the probability of men outliving women was 39 per cent for those who were married, compared to 37 per cent for those who weren’t.

A man’s level of education also had an impact.

Researchers established a 43 per cent probability that men with a university degree would outlive women, in comparison to 39 per cent for those without a high school diploma.

The survival advantage of women has been observed over time across many different populations.

But researchers said sex differences in survival is identified by life expectancy.

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That measure summarises an average length of life, rather than actual years lived.

And that, researchers said, has been interpreted as “men do not live as long as women”.

So the Danish scientists set out to quantify the probability that males outlive females over time and across populations.

They also wanted to explore the impact of changes in life expectancy and variations in lifespan between the sexes.

To do this, they used a statistical approach called the “outsurvival” statistic.

Outsurvival measures the probability that a person from a population with a high death rate will outlive someone from a population with a low death rate.

A group of pensioners enjoy a silent disco at Glades Bay Gardens nursing home, in New South Wales, Australia.
A group of retirees enjoy a silent disco at New South Wales nursing home. (SMH / Edwina Pickles)

Researchers crunched population and mortality data in 199 populations from every continent over a 200-year period.

Analysis showed that since 1850 the probability of males outliving females has, at all points in time and across all populations, varied between 25 per cent and 50 per cent.

In other words, the data showed between one and two out of every four men have outlived women.

In developed countries, the probability of males outliving females fell until the 1970s, after which it gradually increased in all populations.

The rise and fall in sex differences in life expectancy were mainly attributed to smoking and other behavioural differences.

The probability of males living longer than females is generally higher in low / middle-income countries, the study found, but this did not necessarily mean greater gender equality in survival.

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