In almost every country, there is a significant disparity between the life expectancy of men and women. The estimated life expectancy has a significant influence on our daily life, even if we’re not aware of it: Insurance companies for example calculate the premium of life assurances based on so called mortality tables (Sterbetafeln). One of these tables for Austria is depicted below. The x-axis shows the age of a person, the y-axis the probability that this person will die in the shown year.

There are multiple interesting things to observe in this graph. First, the probability of mortality suddenly decreases dramatically after the age of one year (this is caused by the fact that babies are more endangered by diseases that are typically harmless for adults) and increases again by the age of 13. After a stagnation between the ages 18 and 31, by the age of 32, the mortality is increasing constantly again. We can also observe a difference between males and females as woman have a lower mortality from the early age on till the age of 90 when the life expectancy is almost identical for both sexes.

The reason for this disparity is subject of several discussions and there are multiple reasons that are named. The most common attempted explanations are that men usually are living unhealthier and risky lives. Some other argue that the lower life expectancy is based on biological reasons. Others point out that the Second World War may has caused the inequality because men were directly involved in battles and also suffered from late complications of war wounds.

In a survey called the Cloister-Study, researchers tried to answer this question by investigating the life expectancy in monasteries. Their assumption was that the life expectancy of monks and nuns should be equal since both follow a similar style of living, far away from the risks of the daily life of average people. The results of the study is shown in the graph below. The x-axis shows the observed year, the y-axis the life expectancy after the age of 25. The red thick line shows the life expectancy of nuns, the red thin line the life expectancy of woman in general (same for monks and men).

As it can be seen, nuns usually live longer than monks but the disparity is less significant than between women and men in general. However, there is a high difference between the life expectancy of men and monks. The gap between monks and nuns that opened up in the 1970’s may be caused by the smoking behavior in monasteries. While smoking was generally prohibited in nunneries, monasteries were less stringent concerning this topic. It also becomes evident that biological reasons only have little influence of the disparity of life expectancy since monks live up to 5 years longer compared to all men. So, as a man you have two options to live longer: Either live healthier and avoid risks or become a monk.


Life expectancy of men and women in monasteries (German): Follow